Utilities plans ‘demonstration facility’ on mesa
First phase to open to public in June

       The building behind the xeriscape garden on the mesa became available for Colorado Springs Public Utilities Department’ Center Development Project (CDP) when the water lab, one of the building tenants, was consolidated into the Utilities location on Las Vegas Street.
       “It was really ideal,” said Diane Walker, Utilities’ general manager of market planning. “The building (at 2855 Mesa Road, near Fillmore Street) was being vacated, and at the same time it is a fantastic location and it had the xeriscape garden. It made a lot of sense to leverage it for a demonstration facility.”
       The facility is scheduled to open “in limited fashion” this June, she said. By the end of 2005, the $4.5 million, three-year project will transform the building at 2855 Mesa Road (behind the garden) into visitors center/demonstration facility for Utilities, providing “cutting-edge” information about energy efficiency and new technologies and related demonstrations by staff and volunteers.
       The CDP is a joint project between the Market Planning and Environmental Services divisions of Utilities. The idea formulated “over time,” Walker said, through brainstorming by several people in Utilities, including Utilities Director Phil Tollefson and Conservation Manager Ann Seymour, who will be the center supervisor.
       For phase one, which started last year, physical features will include a building entryway and retrofit of the front of the building, with exhibits, interactive displays and temporary office space for staff, according to an information document from Utilities. Among the offerings will be a demonstration of energy-efficient appliances and “what sorts of specifications to look for when buying or renovating a house,” Walker said.
       The first phase has not been evident to the public because the bulk of the work has been indoors, she said, stabilizing the building’s basement.
       Phase two, including reconstruction inside the building, is scheduled to start in September, with the final phase – an addition on the south side – finishing in mid-to-late 2005. Getting the building ready will also involve retrofitting the former water lab areas into staff and volunteer space and class and conference rooms and completing exhibits and displays, the document states.
       “We’re working with the architect to make it (the center) environmentally sensitive,” Walker said. “A lot of the materials demolished in the project will be reused… We hope it will be a model for builders and people in the community.”
        The current xeriscape parking lot will be set aside for handicapped parking, with regular public parking in the current lot behind the building.
       Throughout the project, the city is trying to remain sensitive to the nearby residential area and plans to hold “quite a few open houses with the neighbors so they’ll know what’s going on,” Walker said.
       Inside the facility, information will be provided about the services provided by Colorado Springs Utilities (water, wastewater, gas and electricity), Walker said. “There will probably be few others in the country like this,” she said – a main reason being that few municipalities are like the Springs in providing all four services.
       Admission will be free. Included will be school-age exhibits. A citizen advisory committee, including area educators, will keep Utilities posted on what people might want to see in the center.
       Some products and services will be for sale, but only those that have been developed by Utilities, Walker said, elaborating that the center will not sell items that would put the city in competition with the private sector.
        “For residents as well as the commercial sector, our intent is to show current technologies on how to be energy-efficient, as well as new and upcoming technologies that can help people see what the future will be like,” she said. “They could see how to retrofit a building with lighting, heating and insulation, for example… It’s all a focus of how Utilities is trying to be environmental stewards and conservation advocates.”
       The $4.5 million cost of the center’s development is being paid by rate-payers. Utilities believes the expense is justified because the center will help residents and business people learn how to build and renovate in ways that are the most energy efficient. “We have a responsibility and commitment to provide this information to the community,” Walker said. “It benefits our customers by showing them how they can save money and helps us effectively plan and manage the needs of the community. We know we can’t solve all the future needs through conservation, but at the same time it is good to reduce usage.”
        Utilities hopes there will be enough volunteer help – from former Utilities employees as well as the Friends of Beideleman and other citizens – to keep its CDP open on weekdays as well as weekends.
       “We don’t plan to staff it heavily,” Walker said. Volunteers, she said, have made it possible to keep the xeriscape garden maintained all these years. “They’re our lifeblood,” she said. “We love them.”

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