Meeker officials, residents discuss old elementary school use

MEEKER I More than 70 residents filled the Meeker Town Board of Trustees meeting Tuesday night to voice concerns at a public hearing about the town turning over the old elementary school to Rio Blanco County for use as the new justice center.
It was nearly unanimous among audience members that they didn’t want to see the old under-used building torn down and removed from its location. However, Town Administrator Scott Meszaros stated that asbestos problems and structure deficiencies would mean millions of dollars in expenditures just to bring it up to current code without any remodeling, something town officials are reluctant to do.
Meeker Mayor Mandi Etheridge expressed the board’s frustration, acknowledging that in 2009 many residents said they didn’t want to tear down the building, favoring an alternative purpose.
However, she said, “In those four years, not one single entity has approached the town officials with a plan for what they want to do with the building. We can’t keep this up forever with the repairs that need to be made to the building.
“The town doesn’t want to be a landlord; we want some entity to come to us with a solid idea, and we can turn the building over to them,” she said. “But it is going to take millions to fix the building, and the money just isn’t there in this economy.”
Roughly 10 residents spoke out, offering a wide variety of ideas on what to do with the building and proclaiming that they did not want to see the building razed.
“It is important to hold onto history,” Connie Theos said. “I favor assisted living on the north side of the building; …and the building could be used to bring business into downtown.”
Resident Sandy Shimko added, “The trustees shouldn’t forget the feelings expressed last time.
Brian Conrado said, “I am shocked this is happening; we have a group looking at a lot of alternative ideas … it is not transparent at all, the town officials have dropped the ball on informing the pubic what is going on.”
Several town officials and board members took umbrage with that statement, stating that the doors of town hall have always been open and that all meetings have been advertised, yet no one has bothered to come to town meetings or workshops, where several times the school building has been discussed.
Bob Amick, a proponent of keeping the school a multi-functional public facility, said, “It is time for community members to become active. The Meeker Arts and Cultural Council has done quite a bit, but a lot of people in town who have these convictions about keeping the old school need to become involved.”
He also presented a resolution to the board, asking members to name a committee to work with various groups, including History Colorado, which was represented by preservation planner Pat A. Eidman, who works for the state, to see if some funding is available to go along with the planning help offered by Eidman.
At the end of the hearing, the board voted to move forward with letting the county “examine if the school would meet the county’s needs for expansion.”