Trade school’s expansion in doubt due to state’s 31st St. intersection plans

       Since 1986, John Barnett has owned and managed a Midland-area school for bicycle mechanics who come here from across America and sometimes from foreign countries.
       After gradually expanding his Barnett Bicycle Institute (BBI) over the years in the Ore Mill Business Center, he and center owner Matt Craddock worked out a plan last year for a new building - on adjacent open land near 31st Street and Highway 24 - that would include a dormitory for the BBI's students.
       Until recently, everything seemed rosy. City Planning had recommended approval; no neighbors had objected. With the anticipated use variance from Planning Commission March 9 (allowing dorms in an industrial zone), groundbreaking was expected within three months.
       Then Barnett found out about the Colorado Department of Transporta-tion (CDOT) Westside Highway 24 expansion proposals, which were detailed in January. Three of the four alternatives for the new highway intersection at 31st Street would go through his would-be school property, he said in an interview this week.
       As a result, Barnett is having second thoughts about locating there. He said he plans to ask Cradock for a five-month extension on the contract - under which he would buy 40 percent of the new building - in hopes the state will have made a final decision by then.
       Craddock is not as pessimistic about the situation as Barnett. “It will be 15 or 20 years before they (CDOT) even build it,” he said, based on his talks with state engineers. And, he pointed out, “You can't have the land sitting there forever. That would be 15 years of economic loss.”
       Additionally, Craddock opined, the state would provide two years' notice to businesses on the site before starting any highway work. Barnett is not so sure; he thinks he wouldn't have more than 90 days. For I-25's COSMIX, less than a year passed before the project's final Environmental Assessment was approved and purchases were completed, based on Westside Pioneer coverage.
       Regardless, it would not be easy to find another campus location on the mostly developed Westside, Barnett believes. “This is probably going to chase us into Manitou,” he said.
       Before the highway news, “we were pretty excited about it,” he said. “It wouldn't be a big splash on the Westside, but it would make use of vacant land without increasing traffic and would generate more income for locals.”
       Having dorms would help centralize school activities. Currently, visiting students, for whom classes last up to 3 ½ weeks, stay at the neighboring Travelodge, but the motel's costs have gone up and available rooms reduced by a partial transition to apartments, Barnett explained.
       He was also excited about the idea of having the school so close to one of the three trailheads to Red Rock Canyon (planned on 31st Street, near the former stables). “That was a big part of it,” he said.
       Whether the project could go through without BBI is not certain. Craddock said he needs half the property to be sold or leased before he can start construction, and he won't have that without BBI.
       Barnett, the one-time service manager at the Criterium Bike Shop, teaches about 250 students a year. He has a staff of 3 ½ people (which would become four with the new site). He said he'd budgeted about $1.1 million for the project.
       Plans show the new building as 17,000 square feet (of which BBI would buy 8,000 square feet) south of Ore Mill Road. A steel structure, it would be located west of - and look a lot like - the current Ore Mill Business Center, which consists of a series of one-story buildings that house a variety of small businesses, including industrial and retail.
       Because of the new building's location over the tailings from the 1800s-era Philadelphia gold mill, Barnett said the landscaping would have to be xeriscaped; the idea is to prevent heavy watering that could force inert contaminants down into the subsurface water table, he said.
       Just west of the new building, at the corner of Ore Mill Road and 31st Street, a restaurant is a possibility. Those details are still being worked out, Craddock said.

Westside Pioneer article