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MEEKER I “After feeling like we were pretty well rebuffed on our proposal for the downtown justice center, we’ve basically concluded that going ahead with construction on the current courthouse property is the most cost-effective. We’ve reopened discussion with Archetype Design and they’re now working to come up with a design that will fit on the (current) courthouse square,” Rio Blanco County Commission Chairman Ken Parsons told Meeker’s board of trustees via telephone during the town’s Feb. 16 workshop meeting.
The county’s proposal to demolish the 70-year-old elementary school building and construct a two-story criminal justice center on the site was met with heavy opposition from citizens.
Commissioner Kai Turner added, “We had some preliminary drawings of what we thought was a good idea, but we have to cut our losses somewhere and move on. The suggestions we got were, ‘We don’t want that.’”
“I think our needs are a little more modest now, than what we originally anticipated,” Parsons said, indicating the county might be interested in using part of the elementary school block for parking, but that they are not interested in using the building.
The current building will be vacated when the new school on Sulphur Creek Road is finished, leaving the town “holding the bag” for a large chunk of prime downtown property.
“My biggest goal right now is to see what kind of synergy there may or may not be with the county,” said Meeker Mayor Mandi Etheridge. “Is there any way that these two properties can work together? I don’t want to rule out whether it’s a justice center, or if the county will have any part in this building.”
The county, however, faces its own challenges with the upkeep of another aging building, the Fairfield Center.
“In terms of projects, we have awarded a contract on the remodel of the old library space at the Fairfield Center. We’re also undertaking some energy efficiency upgrades for the senior apartments there. And trying to figure out how to work without the $30,000 a year from the Fairfield Trust because of changes made by Wells Fargo,” Parsons said.
Citizen workgroup member Brian Conrado asked the commissioners “…why the top two floors of the courthouse can’t be used for a jail and move the offices to another building, on one level?”
Parsons replied, “We’ve just spent a third of a million dollars making that courthouse handicap accessible. We’d like to keep our operations centered there. We don’t need a lot of additional office space, we need a jail.”
The current method of building jails uses a prefabricated pod system, and must be built to fit, making it cost-prohibitive to repurpose an existing building.
What to do with the old building is the next hill the board of trustees has to climb. Ideas that have been mentioned include senior assisted living, relocating the chamber of commerce and creating “incubators” for business start-ups, office space, a theater, or an annex for CNCC.
CNCC has said in prior discussions that they are not in a position financially to take on that kind of fiscal responsibility in Meeker. Craig and Rangely, which both have campuses for the college, have mill levies that support the college’s activities.
“What do we need in the community?” asked county administrator Pat Hooker. “How does this old building and structure play into that need?”
Margie Joy of Pioneers Hospital added, “We have a nice list of ideas, but my fear is if you go to conceptual drawings and put it out to the public, that’s a popularity contest. You guys are the leaders, what are the goals? Do you need an economic development center, or a community activity center?”
The town would like to ask community members to share their ideas for the building’s future use by contacting Pat Hooker at the county or Sharon Day at town hall.
Representatives from the town, county, the historical society, the chamber of commerce and the citizens’ workgroup assigned to review options for the future of the Meeker Elementary School site downtown were in attendance.