Bob Amick: Rio Blanco to demolish historic school for a jail
March 21, 2014
To the editor:
Rio Blanco County is moving to demolish the classic "art deco" red sandstone historic old Meeker elementary school built by the WPA in 1939. It is among the top five historic buildings listed for preservation by History Colorado and Colorado Preservation. As a token to "historic preservation," their plan is to save only the south portion of the school to gut it and fill it with court offices. Their design features "ski area" sloped roofs and an entrance that is completely incongruent with the art deco architecture and of other historic downtown buildings.
This project has been a "done deal" since last spring, when the town in their infinite wisdom, deeded the school to the county for their jail project despite a large turnout of more than 70 citizens at the town trustee meeting opposing the maneuver. In frustration, concerned citizens tried to circulate a petition for referendum of the ordinance permitting citizens to vote on the school transfer. The former town attorney ruled in 2010 that under Colorado law (Title 31-15-713), any decision to give the school to the county would require a vote, since it had been used for public purposes. The town refused to allow the referendum so that the citizens could exercise their right to vote. After the county took possession, commissioners were requested to permit a ballot issue for voters to decide. The county's response: "Counties are not required by the state to permit an initiative." Yet the Colorado Constitution Article 5 provides that right to citizens. Colorado and Oregon are the only states with such prohibitions. The county likely would have lost in an election.
More than 400 citizens (8 percent of the voters) signed a petition opposing the plan in November. Five percent would get it on the ballot (if the county allowed it). Citizens feel helpless because the elected officials are not responsive or accountable to their constituents, unless it agrees with their views. One said, "We were elected by the citizens to make decisions, and that's what we are going to do." Government is supposed to be "… of the people, by the people, and for the people … (Abraham Lincoln)." Their minds are made up and don't want to be confused with the facts. Previously, the county was all set to build their jail/courts building north of the courthouse (or at the Meeker Terrace) and could have done so less expensively as no expensive/dangerous asbestos abatement nor destruction of the school would have been necessary. It could have been a win-win situation for the county and for repurposing the historic school as a community center for youths and adults to promote economic development and cultural heritage tourism.
Tragically, it soon will be destroyed and replaced by a ticky, tacky brick jail building in the downtown historic district. A jail is incongruent with heritage tourism and contributes nothing to the economy. There is no cure for stupidity except perhaps replacement.