How about riverside site for fire, police?

Opinion – Durango Herald May 25, 2022

What do Durango Fire District, River City Hall, the old Durango High School, a bordello and the Animas City Cemetery have in common? Before I answer that question, let’s ponder a “hot topic.”

Is the historic high school building the only place to build modern fire and police facilities? Or is the solution in the very place that’s the problem?

Could new fire and police facilities be built where they are now and relocate River City Hall offices? The parcel that includes the current fire station, city administration offices and Iris Park belongs to the City of Durango.

It’s an option worthy of consideration for a win-win outcome. The public would be more amenable to that idea rather than a fire district move to the old high school.

At the very least, we should discard the notion that the idea is off the table because the riverside property is city-owned. The city, fire protection district and school district may be distinct governmental entities, but to citizens, public is public.

Riverside fire and police facilities would require imaginative design features and construction logistics. It’s not known how the cost would compare to the fire district’s current proposal to build at the old high school, but we should find out. If it’s feasible, there are advantages beyond the need for centralized modern facilities for first responders.

For starters, how about a showcase for community fire protection and police? Being next to the Animas River Trail and the Powerhouse Science Center guarantees a constant presence with the public. It’s an opportunity to promote good relations, education, and support of firefighters, police and other public servants.

Likewise, our responders will find it refreshing to interact with trail users, school field trips and others who are not in need of being rescued. The trail-facing side of the facilities could be an outdoor exhibition and information center without need for staffing.

Relocating administrative offices currently at River City Hall to another area of town (the old high school?) isn’t nearly the challenge of building a home base for fire and police.

The key to a riverside alternative is whether elected city officials, the fire and school districts can agree to objectively evaluate the concept. The overriding concerns should be design, construction and cost. Jurisdictional issues, such as who currently owns the land, can be worked out if the proper mindset and willpower are applied to a solution.

That kind of collaboration would be in keeping with the history of the area. My grandfather, Richard W. Turner, gave his interest in the Iris Park property to the city in 1981. He was originally given the property by Iris Spencer, the madam who operated a bordello by the Animas River. That’s another story, but it wasn’t because granddad was a customer!

The gift of the riverside property to Durango was conditioned on the city taking ownership and care of the Animas City Cemetery (located below College Hill). My great-great grandparents and other Durango pioneers are buried there. I’m not exactly sure how the Turner family came to own it, but historic cemeteries are not easy to dispense of, not even as a gift to the public.

From the city’s perspective, there was no potential for development of the cemetery and no property tax. I’m not sure how ghosts might have factored in, but granddad could never get the city to take the old cemetery off his hands until the city needed the land next to the river.

They worked it out and we can do it again. Let’s call on the city and fire district to negotiate a creative solution to new facilities that would make Madam Iris and Granddad Turner proud.

Jack Turner is a graduate of the “old Durango High School” as were his siblings, father and grandfather.

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