Variety of comments made by residents on Justice Center proposal

RBC I Nineteen residents of Meeker and the surrounding area spoke Wednesday evening to the Rio Blanco County Board of Commissioners after county officials spent nearly two hours explaining the history of proposed new county justice center and how it came to the point it is now — with concept drawings and plans.
Each speaker was given three minutes to make a statement or ask questions although many on both sides of the issue were allowed to go another two or three minutes. Most of those who spoke, spoke in favor of the justice center as presented Wednesday evening. Below is a summary of what most of the speakers had to say:
Scott Mobley: Mobley said he wants to see the justice center placed behind the existing courthouse or to the west, between the existing courthouse and the location of the Meeker Post Office. Commissioner Shawn Bolton explained the problem with that would come in the future — that if there was another boom, which he said he believed would happen again, there wouldn’t be any room for expansion as there is with the proposed center.
Tony Weiss: Weiss praised the county for the job done of drawing up the project and he urged the commissioners to proceed with the justice center as proposed.
Sally Wilson: Wilson wanted to know why 44 parking spaces were taken away along Fifth Street and why Rangely wasn’t considered for the justice center. Commissioner Shawn Bolton explained that under the proposed justice center, 10 additional parking spaces will be gained overall, and he said that he spoke with Rangely Mayor Frank Huitt, who told him that the Rangely people would love to have had the center but that they realized it should stay in the county seat, which is Meeker.
Charlie Brow: Brow complimented the architects for the proposed plan but added that it doesn’t look like much of a historical building. Bolton said that the cost of an entirely new building out of the old sandstone would be cost prohibitive but that the entire front facade of the old elementary school will be utilized.
Rio Blanco County Sheriff Si Woodruff: Woodruff pointed out that there is little parking use on Fifth Street now and the day-to-day business at the courthouse doesn’t not require all the existing parking now. On those special occasions when the courthouse lawn and school property are busy, the overall gain of 10 spaces is a benefit. He said he will stand behind the commissioners’ plan now because there could be another boom that would require the larger jail.
“We have five to 10 prisoners now, but we have had as many as 33,” he said. “This jail will be there for when that happens again and that won’t require us to build a larger jail later. This is not an extravagant jail. The plans make the building much safer for staff, officers and the inmates, and it brings people into the downtown area to eat and shop when they are at the courthouse for their court cases or when visiting friends or relatives who are inmates. And it gives us an attractive, vibrant building that is being used instead of just standing there.”
Gus Halandras: “I love the school, I have carved on it, I graduated from it, but an unused building doesn’t bring revenue, only cost.” He complimented the county on a sound plan for the building and he he felt the plan as presented will work toward bringing an active economy back to the downtown area.
“We may have already lost a good chance to fix the downtown as empty old buildings don’t help,” he said. “Empty building don’t pay bills and a dead downtown is not a viable downtown.”
Sparky Pappas: Pappas said she doesn’t want to see Fifth Street closed. She said she believes there is too much pressure on Sixth Street now and that a closure of Fifth Street would hurt Fourth and Sixth streets by putting more pressure on them.
Brian Conrado: Conrado spoke of all the hard work done by the Meeker group that wants to save the old elementary school. He said the people with HistoryColorado have been “enthralled” with the old school. Conrado also said that there is no questions there are structural problems with the newer L-shaped portion of the old elementary school, but he urged the commissioners to give the closure of the school more thought since it could be used as a community center.
LaTone Mangus: Mangus made the comment that she just doesn’t want the justice center downtown and that it should be built “out of town, where it belongs.”
Quentin Smith: Smith said he wanted to commend the commissioners on their efforts to enhance Meeker’s environment and community.
“You have done that with this project,” he said.
Bob Amick: Amick reminded the commissioners and the audience that many refurbished buildings around Colorado have brought money into those towns and that agri-history is a huge money maker in the state. Amick has long been one of the leader of the local group to “repurpose” the old elementary school for a variety of community projects such as meeting rooms, a community center, a cultural arts center, for partial use as senior housing and a variety of uses — with the potential of turning the building into an income-producer. Amick did commend the commissioners for their openness and the openness of the county staff.
Mark Hafkenshiel: “I believe the commissioners have made their decisions in backdoor meetings and that they have ignored and mocked the citizens of this community. I believe this is an ill-conceived and ill-planned project.”
Mary Whalin: Whalin said she thought the project didn’t need to be so big as to take up two full blocks of downtown Meeker and she added that she believed there was no way that such a small town needed to spend so much money for the courthouse and a justice center.
Whalin asked for a show of hands of those in the audience in favor or against the project. A majority of those who raised their hands were in favor of the justice center proposal.
(Editor’s Note: Of the roughly 90 people in the audience, a guesstimate would be that 30 people didn’t vote either way and that it was a 60 percent/40 percent split, with the 60 percent of those who did vote voting in favor of the justice center.)
Carol Parr: Parr said the most important thing is to be certain that the officers are safe and that the design of the proposed center does that. She also said that she is not in favor of tearing down the old school, “but compromise is needed.” She also said she is very concerned with with all of the heavy traffic using Third Street and would like to see something done there, then preserve Fifth Street to help take the pressure off Third Street, preferring to see that traffic funneled up Fifth.
Jim Ellis: Ellis called for a united town over the project and said the commissioners did a great facilities plan for low costs and for blending the original and the new by utilizing the front of the old school.
“We need to maintain the downtown, and the hospital leaving its location won’t help,” he said. “If we move the justice center out of town, then we have two empty buildings. The courts and the jail do bring a lot of people to town and they do go to the restaurants in town and do some shopping — and all that income does go into the town’s coffers.”
Jackelin Hafkenshiel: Hafkenshiel said she just wanted to inform the commissioners that many of the elderly in town are afraid of having the jail and prisoners in the downtown. She also said she was very upset that the commissioners limited the amount of time people could speak at the public meeting, which was set up to hear input from the public.