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City Council eyes $500K to repair Bancroft bandshell, improve park

       Colorado Springs Parks attracted harsh criticism as City Council worked on the issue of Bancroft Park's fire-charred bandshell at its March 13 work session and March 14 formal meeting. The result was a complex set of votes March 14 intended to prompt speedier action and to free up potentially $500,000 from different city funds for repairs as well as upgrades to the park as a whole.
       Specific funding action is anticipated at the next formal council meeting March 28. The elected body voted to delay that element so that City Parks staff could have two more weeks to put together details that would guide council in that regard.
       When council first discussed Bancroft in late February, the goal had been to have the bandshell usable by summer. But based on information from
This photo, provided to City Parks from the Pioneers Museum collection, shows an early view of the Bancroft Park bandshell, which was built in 1935. At the time, the stairs were in the mid-front (instead of the sides, as it is now); and there was no stage-front "lip" or a back wall. Kurt Schroeder of Parks presented the photo to City Council at its March 13 work session. He also stated for the record that, contrary to previous historical reports, the building's stone aspect is not Manitou greenstone, but actually a veneer over brick.
Westside Pioneer photo from Springs TV; photo courtesy of Pioneers Museum
Parks staff March 13-14, that is now a forlorn hope. Still being awaited is an insurance company's engineering/adjustor report on the damage from the Jan. 27 fire, and not even a "ballpark" timetable has been suggested for any work to start.
       One of the first steps Parks took after the fire was informing all the major event promoters this summer that the bandshell would be unavailable. This edict carries into the future as far as Coronado High School's Sept. 16 Homecoming Parade through Old Colorado City, and the school is making other plans for its post-parade pep rally that has traditionally featured cheers, dancing and songs on the Bancroft stage, according to CHS Principal Darin Smith.
       Other major events affected this year are the annual Taste of OCC (April 30) and Territory Days (May 27-29), both of which now plan to use temporary stages. The Paint the Town Blue series of 10 weekly summer shows has relocated to Thorndale Park after 11 years in Bancroft. The summer-Saturday Farmers Market (June to October) does not use the stage, so it will be unaffected.
       The March 28 council meeting could prove confrontational. The March 13-14 consensus called on Parks to provide
To refute allegations that City Parks did not respond quickly enough to the Bancroft Park fire Jan. 27, the department's Kurt Schroeder presented a timeline to City Council at its March 13 work session. The above view shows what happened during the first week afterward. Note the Feb. 2 reference to the insurance company needing to send out a "large loss adjustor." Farther on in the timeline, it shows the adjustor coming to the scene 20 days later (Feb. 22) with an insurance-assigned engineer. After that, Travelers Insurance told the city that the duo would need four to six weeks to finish their report.
Westside Pioneer photo from Springs TV
“not-to-exceed” cost estimates by then. But at the March 14 meeting, Parks Director Karen Palus told council that the two-week span was “not enough time” and she did not expect to have even “preliminary information” before May.
       The City Council effort to prioritize Bancroft was pushed by Keith King, the outgoing councilmember for District 3, which includes Old Colorado City. Elected in 2013, King did not seek re-election (citing health and personal reasons) and his term ends in April.
       Late in the March 14 meeting, King announced that he had received assurances from a Mayor's Office representative that it would support major funding for Bancroft and would “expedite” reconstruction efforts by City Parks (which is a department the mayor oversees).
       After the meeting, King elaborated to the Westside Pioneer that the $500,000 for Bancroft could potentially come from the LART tourism tax ($180,000), grant money to Parks through the
District 3 City Councilmember Keith King at the March 13 council work session.
Westside Pioneer photo from Springs TV
state's conservation trust fund ($200,000) and the city's $25,000-deductible insurance policy on the bandshell ($120,000).
       King berated Parks officials at both meetings for having shown no “sense of urgency” about the issue. “You decided to board it up [the bandshell] instead of solving the problems,” King said, adding that “we wasted two months… I'm greatly disappointed that you haven't made accommodations for the folks on the Westside.”
       His main backing came from Councilmembers Don Knight and Tom Strand. Knight, who represents District 1 (just north of District 3) and heads up council's budget committee, led a separate March 14 vote, which had the effect of opening up LART money as a Bancroft funding option.
       Strand, an at-large councilmember who lives in the Old Colorado City area, questioned how much Parks officials care about Bancroft. “I'm not happy with how this has been handled at all,” he told Parks Director Karen Palus.
       At the March 13 work session, Kurt Schroeder, the Parks operation and maintenance manager, displayed a calendar chart, showing that Parks staff had worked on the Bancroft issue every two or three days, on average, ever since the fire.
       But King was unimpressed. He said that many of the steps taken by staff could have happened concurrently and thus saved time; he also disliked that the department's repair plan seems to depend on what the insurance company chooses to pay for. Asked afterward if he
City Parks Director Karen Palus, speaking to City Council at its March 14 meeting,
From Springs TV
felt Parks officials failed to think “out of the box,” King commented, “They weren't even thinking in the box.”
       Palus argued to council that her staff has been following a sensible process that will lead to an improved park facility in the long run, but she warned that even with an expedited effort there will be “a lot of details” that take time to work through.
       “We've taken care of that opportunity to have a better product in the end, versus going in and fixing half a roof or not having electrical brought up to grade to deal with all the historical requirements,” she summarized, “and to do some of the repairs that need to be done to the stonework and to figure that out.”
       According to the city fire investigator's report, one or more people started the fire on the stage Jan. 27, using bits of trash as accelerants. The blaze, which damaged (but did not collapse) the walls, ceiling and rafters before firefighters contained it, was reported around 3 in the morning. No one has been arrested, but it was a cold night and the common speculation is that one or more transients set the fire to keep warm.
       If City Council eventually does approve a substantial amount of money for Bancroft, no public process has yet been established for deciding park amenities (in addition to the needed fire repairs). Some community ideas currently being floated around focus on discouraging criminal behavior in the park. These include installing security cameras, a modern electrical system with motion detectors and electrical outlets that can be disabled at night, and a garage-type door in front of the stage that could be raised for musicians using the bandshell but otherwise kept down to prevent unauthorized stage uses.
       A long-sought priority for Old Colorado City business owners is to build an addition in back of the bandshell for modern, handicapped-accessible public
District 1 City Councilmember Don Knight at the March 13 council work session.
Westside Pioneer photo from Springs TV
restrooms. This advocacy has been led by the nonprofit Colorado City Foundation (OCCF). The addition's cost is estimated at $185,000. OCCF fundraising, primarily from the Taste of OCC event over the past four years, has raised more than $30,000, and over a year ago the group paid to have architectural plans drawn up.
       Prior to the fire, City Parks had not taken action on the restroom proposal. There had been some department talk about writing a Bancroft Park master plan that would include such facilities, but going into this year Parks had provided no such document for OCCF review nor budgeted any city money for restrooms.
       After the fire, several Old Colorado City business and residential leaders cited a lack of communication from City Parks staff, including no notification of the stage being boarded up. Most prominent of these leaders is business owner Julie Fabrizio, the president of both the OCCF and and Old Colorado City Associates (OCCA) business group. She had e-mailed Palus in mid-February, requesting information on what steps Parks was taking and how merchants might help.
       Asked March 17 about that e-mail, Fabrizio said she still has not received a reply from the Parks director. But she said she was "excited about the possiblity" that council's Bancroft action represents.
       Based on Palus' comments to council March 14, she'd like to engage with Westsiders. “We want to go forward with the master plan which the community has been working diligently on,” she asserted at one point, adding later that, as the repair process moves forward, “We're going to have a chance to work with the engineering firm and talk with the community.”
       King had to expend some political capital to get what he wanted from the March 14 meeting. Earlier in the meeting, he had been part of a 5-4 majority that
A City Parks crew boards up the front of the Bancroft Park bandshell stage Feb 24. The department had waited until then, following the Jan. 27 fire, because it was not until Feb. 22 that an adjustor and engineer from the insurance company were able to review the damage.
Westside Pioneer file photo
defeated a motion to use $200,000 (part of $500,000 being allocated over three years) from LART tax proceeds to boost the planned U.S. Olympics Museum downtown. In comments before that vote, he had explained that even though he supports the museum and has helped its progress in the past, he had to vote no in keeping with a previous pledge not to use local tax funds for City for Champions projects (which include the museum).
       But later in the meeting, King sought a revote on that matter. The drama ended with him changing his museum vote to yes, so that the museum got LART money after all.
       “I was assured [by a Mayor's Office representative] that priority funding would be established for Bancroft Park and we would make that a priority equal to the U.S. Olympics Museum,” King explained at the meeting. Afterward, he clarified to the Westside Pioneer that “it was a difficult decision for me,” but his main City for Champions objection had been to using public funds on a downtown stadium - a position he has not altered, and the stadium plan has since died.
       Two councilmembers pounced on King over his museum reversal. Bill Murray alleged that King had “traded his conscience for changing his vote,” and Helen Collins criticized it as a “ridiculous” move, occurring at the end of the nearly four-hour council meeting when “everyone's half asleep” and any citizens who might have commented on it had long since gone.
       In response to these rebukes, King said at the meeting that he had not been “promised anything to buy my vote today… The issue to me was equality for the Bancroft issue… I think they [the museum and Bancroft] are parallel each other - important enough that I wanted to see progress on both issues.”

Westside Pioneer article
(Posted 3/18/17; Outdoors: City/County Parks)

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