Log In

Reset Password

Our View: Proposed civic center would be labor of love

It’s easier to lose history rather than hold onto it.

So we’re especially pleased that the city of Durango is willing to realize its vision of a Civic Center Complex for the Durango School District 9-R administration building and Big Picture High School sites.

On Tuesday, the proposed trade of the city-owned, fire district-leased River City Hall fire station and the 9-R building at 201 E. 12th St., owned by the Durango Fire Protection District, received approval from City Council and the DFPD board of directors. The city will take ownership of the 9-R building, which DFPD purchased in December 2021 from the school district, and pay the fire district $3,586,275 in addition to the River City Hall property. The city’s payment of $3,586,275 to DFPD accounts for the difference in values of the properties.

We’re glad these entities have found their homes.

But to turn the 9-R building into a civic center and police department will take deep pockets – likely more than the $34 million to $40 million City Manager José Madrigal said the rough cost would be. By any measure, we are not renovation professionals. But after a recent tour of the building, this cost range seems modest. In each direction, we saw hidden expenses and checked off updates that could each come in at a cool million.

Is it worth it? It would be pricey. But we want it.

We’re excited about the possibility. This historic, grande dame of a building in the Classic Revival style could transform into something that is feasible and modernized to accommodate nine city departments at this central location. A new chance at life. Like a Cinderella story, we hope this civic center is successful beyond our expectations.

But for the public to get behind this massive restoration project, it will want part of it. Externally and inside, this building is a beauty and holds a lot of memories for a lot of locals. If possible, we’d like to see a small part – a meeting room, an area – devoted for community use.

And residents may need to help make this a reality by volunteering their expertise or spearheading private fundraising efforts.

Artistic values are easy to see in the building’s beautiful lines and arches. To note the elegant touches is to be charmed. Back when craftsmanship was standard in construction, the building includes curved, wooden chalk trays under blackboards, an original (as far as we know) wood gym floor and ornate, thoughtful details where ceiling beams meet auditorium walls. Patterned brick, beveled glass, antique lanterns suspended on long chains.

Windows wouldn’t be efficient by our standards today, but, nonetheless, soar and bring in much natural light.

The building, formerly Durango High School, opened doors to students from 1917 to 1976. A raised-lettered DHS crest on the auditorium wall feels like a tribute to them. The gym is a time capsule with its No Smoking sign, as if we’d have to remind people of that. Don’t light up here!

To back this civic center project means to fall in love with this building. A diamond in the rough – really rough – restoration costs will likely surpass city coffers. Partial financial support for a community space or meeting room may be needed.

The city must meet requirements for Americans with Disabilities Act access, technology, code compliance, hazardous material mitigation, functionality and parking. Much work is ahead.

If we want a community space on this property, we will have to show up at public engagement meetings. A source of community pride and a midtown boost, the civic center could utilize indoor and outdoor areas with the continued fragrance of the Four Corners Rose Garden in bloom.

Be ready for what it will take to preserve and restore this symbol of Durango. We’d support it for the love of it. And its history.