There are some things that once lost are impossible to recover. Youth and virginity come to mind. Parks can fall into that category as well. But while the loss of youth is inevitable and losing one’s virginity can be quite pleasant, the loss of critical park space is neither.
The fate of Buckley Park should be a central consideration in the discussion of turning the School District 9-R Administration Building over to the Durango Fire Protection District. The scheme has too many moving parts, too many possible repercussions and far too many unanswered questions. It should be put on hold until the public has more answers.
The word public, after all, is a key element in this decision. The proposed deal would involve three public entities – School District 9-R, the fire department and the city of Durango. All of those are taxpayer supported and involve property owned by the public. The public has a right to be fully informed and fully aware as to what is going on.
For starters, is the 9-R building – the old high school – really the best place for the fire department? Access is one important issue. How would the proposed move affect response times?
Also, the city appears to want the firefighters out of its riverfront location, presumably so that property could be sold. Why? To whom would it be sold? And to what use would it be put? It seems reasonable to think the city already has an offer or two, but for what? It is the public’s property, and the public should have a say in what that means. Before any of this goes further, the city should explain what is being considered.
Relocating the Durango Police Department’s headquarters to the old high school is also part of the discussion, but should not be. The cop shop can be anywhere. Police officers spend most of their time on patrol, not in the office, and where that office might be is not central to their duties.
And what about any of this justifies diminishing Buckley Park? Turning the old high school over to the fire department – especially if the police are involved – would, of necessity, involve cutting into the park. Parking, modifying street corners and other factors would all require that. Putting the fire department there would also preclude closing Main between 12th and 13th, which is important for some events.
All that would come at the expense of popular events, sledding, downtown open space and just a nice place to hang out. Is that loss really worth it?
Any question of public policy actually involves two questions. One is the obvious: What is the right or best thing to do? But the other is more fundamental: Who decides?
When it comes to the city’s riverfront property, the fire department and the old high school, the answer is clear. The disposition of those properties should be decided by their owners – the public. That decision requires a lot more time and many more answers.