Parks Board defuses RRC bomb shelter idea
Ellis plans appeal to City Council to save Bock-built structure
Undeterred by a unanimous objection from the Colorado Springs Parks Advisory Board, Don Ellis said this week he plans to ask City Council to save Red Rock
Canyon's Bock bomb shelter.
“We're contacting council members, and we'll see where that leads,” said Ellis, one of the property's leading historians. “It may be in the next two or three weeks.”
The board did not officially vote at its March 13 meeting, but comments from individual members showed none in favor of changing the Red Rock Canyon Open Space Master Plan to let it happen. While agreeing with supporters that preservation of historic structures has often been a city shortcoming, member Kent Obee offered the opinion that on a historic-significance scale of 1 to 10, the bomb shelter “is only a 1.”
The bomb shelter is part of what City Parks has described as the “Bock Compound.” It was a collection of buildings at the mouth of Red Rock Canyon, including a house on one side of what's now the Red Rock Canyon Trail and, on the other side, a bomb shelter with a sandstone-faced garage in front. Both were built in the 1960s. As a result of previous board action and a Friends of Red Rock Canyon fundraising effort, the house is set for partial demolition and will be transformed into an open-air pavilion later this year.
In the shelter preservation effort, Ellis has the backing of the Friends group, of which he is a member, as well as the Old Colorado City Historical Society (represented at the Parks Board meeting by its treasurer, Dave Hughes). The long-range goal is to use the facility as an interpretive center and Cold War museum, but for now, lacking funds for such purposes, supporters recommend removing the garage, then refacing and securing the bomb shelter, Ellis said.
City Parks staff recommended against keeping any part of the building, saying the shelter has minimal historic value, a high cost of renovation and a strategic location that detracts from the open space itself. An opinion from Mike Wilbur of the City Attorney's Office added a concern that introducing Ellis' proposed uses at that site - which are not stated in the Master Plan - could cause an issue with the property's conservation easement with the Palmer Land Trust.
This was the opposite of what Ellis contended at the meeting - that the easement, tied to the restrictions of the city's Trails, Open Space and Parks (TOPS) regulations, “specifically prohibits fill and grading on that site.” A Palmer Land Trust representative at the meeting said the group had yet to take a position on the issue.
Note: The house pavilion project would not be affected by the TOPS restrictions because it is in the part of the open space that was bought with lottery funds, which are less restrictive.
In his comments, Parks Development Manager Chris Lieber told the board that moving forward with Ellis' bomb shelter ideas could require a rethinking of the Master Plan, which now leaves open the possibility of a future visitor center, but only on the north edge of the park, near Highway 24.
He also reminded board members of a change they had made to the 2004 Master Plan in '05. The original document had left unresolved what to do with the Bock Compound. But in May '05, he said, the board agreed to amend the plan with the open-air pavilion. Part of that amendment called for the demolition of the bomb shelter, because certain large wood beams could be reused from it for the pavilion.
Ellis told the board that although he had been involved in the Friends' effort, he was unaware that it had been a master plan change, and furthermore he had not found any note of it on City Parks' Internet site.
Some of the Bock Compound's “out buildings,” as the Master Plan describes them, were razed in 2004, after city staff decided they “did not contribute to the open space value,” Lieber explained after the meeting. These included a pole barn, a stable and a swimming pool. “The basic reason the city bought the property was for its open space and natural resource values.”
The cost to renovate the building for a center is estimated at $300,000 or more, according to city estimates. Major costs would likely include bringing in electrical power and possibly water for a fire hydrant. Parks Department concerns also include staffing costs and potential vandalism. On the latter point, supporters rebutted that the building could be secured at night through window shutters and the steel door the Bocks gave it for the bomb shelter.
The city's estimated cost to remove the garage and temporarily seal up the bomb shelter is $42,000. This would mean the loss of some, but not all, of the wood beams desired for the pavilion, Lieber said. The total cost, if all the beams had to be purchased, is estimated at $12,000.
Matt Mayberry, cultural services director for City Parks, told the board that he did not view the bomb shelter as particularly unique and that locally there are many other public or privately built shelters from the Cold War era (about 1950 to 1990). Also, there is scant official documentation about the Bock shelter to contribute to its historical credence, he noted.
Lieber added that staff had bored into the four-foot-thick walls of the bomb shelter and found that they consisted of concrete block on either side with dirt in the middle.
Hughes said the Bocks, who owned the property for about 80 years, deserved to be remembered as “stewards of the land” and what better way than in one of their own buildings. He asked rhetorically if the park was “only to be for fit people in good weather, stomping around, wondering what they're looking at, or do we erase human history? This city has had a habit of getting rid of its history.”
Mayberry clarified that the story of the Bocks will be part of the “human history” segment of the Red Rock interpretive plan that Parks will begin implementing this year.
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