The city of Durango has its eyes set on Durango School District 9-R’s administration building, which is now owned by the Durango Fire Protection District, as a place where it can consolidate its many offices.
Initial impressions from residents who attended an open house this week to learn of the plans were generally positive.
The consolidation would bring together city staff members from the Carnegie Building, City Hall and Durango Police Department on East Second Avenue, as well as River City Hall at 1235 Camino del Rio, under one roof at the 9-R administration building at 201 E. 12th St. In total, nine city departments would be moved to the new site.
The administration building was sold by the school district to Durango Fire Protection District in December 2021 with the idea that the building would later become a joint downtown fire and police station. But the fire district has since shifted its focus to another site, River City Hall.
River City Hall is the location of the fire district’s current downtown station. But the fire district shares the site with city offices, and rehabilitating the building for strictly fire district use would require city offices being moved. The city considers a swap of River City Hall for the former administration building to be a good deal, something it announced in a January news release.
The city held an open house Tuesday to share its plan to occupy the 9-R administration building. After a brief presentation about the building and its history by Ann Christensen of DHM Design, attendees mingled and scrutinized maps of the properties in question.
Peter Schertz, Durango resident and former owner of Maria’s Bookshop on Main Avenue, said consolidation of city offices is something that has been talked about ever since he moved to Durango 34 years ago.
“I appreciate the city stepping forward and leading this effort to better utilize the 9-R admin building. I really appreciate that,” he said.
He said the building’s location, directly adjacent to Buckley Park, is great. But most importantly, city acquisition of the building will meet the dire needs of Durango Police Department.
“The police department seems to be in the most dire need,” he said. “Unfortunately, the average citizen doesn’t see that day-to-day. But we’ve been hearing about it forever.”
The police department building was made ready for 11 officers in 1962, according to Christensen’s presentation. Today, the building lacks adequate parking space for 57 officers and 20 staff members, is short on secure space for evidence storage and suspect interviews, and there is no more room for future growth.
Resident Maria Brieger said she is fond of the idea of turning the administration building into a civic center. As it stands, the building isn’t very “welcoming” to the public despite its proximity to Buckley Park, an amenity prized by residents.
She said she would like to explore the building and appreciate its architecture and design, such as its auditorium, but that is not currently possible.
In her presentation, Christensen said the building itself is “stunning.” It was originally built in 1917 and even has an old swimming pool “tucked away” in the back of the building. In 2001, the building was entered into the state and national historic records.
“When you take on a building like that there’s some pros and cons,” she said. “It’s got quite a bit of cultural significance; it has a connection to Durango’s history.”
She said the city’s biggest challenges to adopting the building as a new civic center are meeting Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility, city code standards, assessing and mitigating hazardous materials, identifying suitable parking, and keeping up with regular maintenance.
The meeting was meant to introduce residents to the proposed move and invite public feedback, Christensen said. Next steps for the city include getting direction from Durango City Council. Later, cost estimates and a financial strategy will be determined. Future opportunities for public input are planned at similar open houses or forums.