The city of Durango this summer plans to demolish the dilapidated Mason Center, former home of a gymnastics program, elementary school and multiple education centers.
The 15,300-square-foot building – insulated with asbestos and about 70 years old – has been most recently used for city programs and storage. Talk of tearing it down heated up in 2019 when a portion of the center’s roof collapsed because of heavy spring snow.
“Over time, it has continued to deteriorate in terms of the maintenance needs and requirements for the building,” said Cathy Metz, city parks and recreation director. “This building had gotten to the point where it was past the point of renovation, and the best idea was to tear it down.”
The Mason Center sits on a 3-acre plot in the East Third Avenue Historic Overlay District, a short walk to downtown and the Animas River Trail.
The plot’s playground is often used as a play space for schools, child care programs and church groups. Two tennis courts are a popular spot for the athletically inclined, and locals in the neighborhood often take a stroll past the green space.
The building at 301 E. 12th St. previously housed the Durango Adult Education Center, Durango Latino Education Coalition, city storage and city staff offices.
It was built in the 1950s and doesn’t meet design standards required by the Americans with Disabilities Act, which the U.S. Congress passed in 1990. The city of Durango purchased the building in 1995 from Durango School District 9-R and later added the tennis courts.
During the demolition, two wings that used to house classrooms will be torn down, but the gymnasium will continue to be used for city storage, according to city documents.
A portion of the parking lot is in disrepair and will become a grassy area. The lot’s 14 parking spaces, including one handicap-accessible spot, will remain. So will the playground area and tennis courts.
The demolition will also bring improvements to the land. The plan is to install topsoil, irrigation and turf grass seed by the end of the summer to control erosion and provide a cohesive park space.
The exact schedule and cost for the project will not be decided until the city accepts a company’s bid. The city expects to have the grass seed down by the end of summer, Metz said.
City staff members held a community meeting in January and are collecting public comments.
Residents strongly supported maintaining the park space, according to 10 public comments reported as of Tuesday. They shared concerns about parking, attributing a dearth of available spots to traffic at The Smiley Building a block away.
The city of Durango does not have any development plans for the park beyond this summer’s demolition. But several residents were already registering their opposition to any type of housing development, which others called NIMBY-ism, an abbreviation for “not in my backyard.”
“We really got a lot of feedback about certainly keeping it as a neighborhood park,” Metz said. “If there is a different direction in the future, that’ll be a separate public process and we’ll engage the community at that time.”
Interested residents can continue to submit comments about the project on the city’s webpage for the project, Metz said.