The decision is final: Durango School District 9-R is selling its historic administration building to the Durango Fire Protection District.
After months of negotiations, the school board voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a purchase agreement with the fire district. The decision wrapped up an at-times contentious debate about the sale of the building, located on prime real estate in the heart of downtown Durango.
For DFPD Chief Hal Doughty, the deal represents an exciting new stage for public safety in the downtown area.
“We are so excited to have a new platform from which to serve the public,” he said.
The school district plans to split up the 4.3-acre property, which includes Buckley Park, the administration building and Big Picture High School.
It will sell Buckley Park, a 1.5-acre field between 12th Street and 13th Street along Main Avenue, separately. The parcel division process, handled by the city of Durango, is still in progress.
The whole property was valued at about $10 million. With Buckley Park valued at $3.47 million, the remaining property would be worth about $6.5 million.
The fire district offered to buy the remaining land for $5 million in cash and $1.94 million of in-kind services.
“It’s not something that was decided overnight,” said Kristin Smith, school board president. “We really are excited for the fire district to use this facility to help ensure the safety of our community.”
Durango Fire Protection District, which spans 325 square miles of La Plata County, said it has outgrown its current downtown station, located at River City Hall. Some areas of the fire station do not even meet fire code.
When the district moved into station in 1983, it was meant to be temporary. In the decades since, the district has tried 19 times to find a new permanent location.
But based on call data, the new facility had to be in a specific area: between the Animas River and East Third Avenue, and between College Drive and 14th Street, according to its purchase proposal.
A fast-moving real estate market has made affordable properties in that area increasingly difficult to find, but the 9-R property meets the district’s criteria.
The school board supported Doughty’s vision for the property, including educational uses such as a fire science program, and wanted to keep the property in the public domain.
Community members, however, had questions about how the new station would work, how loud the sirens would be and whether the district should have accepted other offers.
The school district said Tuesday it had three other competing offers for the property.
An out-of-state developer offered to pay $6.1 million for the property to create housing and commercial space.
A local resident offered $4.5 million in cash to open a low-cost day care, private preschool, elder care and a technology incubator.
Two local residents and an out-of-state developer offered $4 million to create residential units, some of which would be deed-restricted as affordable housing for teachers.
Next, the fire district will embark on an 18-month design process. School district staff members will move off the campus by December 2022.
“It is our intent to do as much public outreach as possible in the coming weeks to clearly share our vision and to hear the ideas and concerns of the community,” Doughty said. “Thank you to all of our community for the support and encouragement you have shared in recent weeks.”