Now that the former Durango High School – the Durango School District 9-R Administration Building – is in the hands of the Durango Fire Protection District, shaping the property’s function and appearance will be more straightforward; the school district wanted it off its hands, for a price, and had little interest in its future. Three-way conversations, where the city of Durango’s should have been uppermost, never got underway.
Now, the fire district and the city will have to come to agreement about how the new use of the building will affect downtown Durango. Egress from the site is uppermost. Downhill on 12th Street to Main Avenue will either eliminate some parking or require cutting into Buckley Park. The right and left turns onto Main will require a light of some kind, and from 12th to 13th will no longer be able to be traffic-free for the larger events in Buckley.
What is the balance between timely and full responses to medical and fire needs and the growing move toward more slower paced, pedestrian and bicycle travel?
Third Avenue residents have been told that trucks will avoid heading their direction, but when minutes can affect health and safety that pledge will be overridden.
Returning up 13th from Main to the district’s trucks’ bays will end at a corner of the Smiley Building property where nonprofits and children’s programs are a part of the building owners’ efforts to encourage biking and walking. That will create a sharp interface.
As to maintaining the 1914 building’s appearance, that is an issue important to many. Durangoans value the role historical structures play in recognizing the community’s history.
The freestanding classroom addition that has recently housed The Big Picture program will come down to be replaced by truck bays. What will that architecture look like?
The addition of perimeter fencing and lighting? We guess Durangoans will not want an industrial appearance at the end of Second Avenue and visible from Main.
All this suggests to us that a redo and expansion of the fire district’s current main station location on the Animas River north of River City Hall should be given strong consideration. Once informally held in reserve for the future location of an arts complex, access is too restricted for that.
The future underpass will bring pedestrians, but there is no easy in-easy out for cars.
The existing building, which the fire district has been forced to use for too long, is cramped, without adequately sized and spaced sleeping, dining and administrative quarters. Level it and build properly.
Reducing the fire district to only a brief owner of the former high school is not unthinkable. With creativity, work the building into a trade for the riverfront location and a share to some degree of the cost of building new. The city – with the transparency that was absent from the school district’s decision-making – can then identify more city and neighborhood-friendly uses for the high school.
Durango’s narrow river valley location is limited, and guiding its core in the direction of its best use is critical. While the fire district works through the planning and approval steps for the former high school location, put equal effort into evaluating the costs of rebuilding where it is. Then show the comparisons and the contrasts.
Will consultants be needed along with a commitment of city and fire district leadership and staff time? Yes, but the right decision is critical.
Let’s not overlook the possibility of the fire district in proper quarters remaining where it is.