LLC on verge of running center

       Pending final negotiations with City Procurement, the Westside Community Center will be operated within a month by a limited liability corporation (LLC) of the Woodmen Valley Chapel.

A toss by current Westside Community Center Director Brian Kates (left) hits the red target (far right - note ball caroming off), in the dunking fundraiser at the center's Sunflower Festival March 20. About to slide into the water is City Councilmember Sean Paige, while standing nearby and waiting his turn is Councilmember Tom Gallagher. The festival also displayed some of the programs and activities at the center.
Westside Pioneer photo

       Going by the name of Westside Community Center LLC, it will run the center much the way it is now while adding non-religious outreach programs for low-income Westsiders in conjunction with five existing non-profit agencies that are already involved in such efforts, according to Dick Siever, who will serve as the LLC's director.
       The five are Greccio Housing, Pikes Peak Community Action Agency, Westside CARES, Peak Vista Community Health Centers and Silver Key Senior Services. Some of the joint programs will focus on emergency needs, assistance in learning job skills and matched saving programs for youths and/or employed lower-income adults.
       Two City Council meetings March 22 and 23 clarified the destiny through the end of this year for the Westside Center, as well as the city's other three community centers. The LLC will begin transitioning into Westside by mid-April, with no city staff remaining on payroll there after April 30, according to City Parks Director Paul Butcher. Brian Kates, who in January was put in charge of the West Center as well as Meadows Park (where he had been for 11 years) will go back to Meadows full-time, Butcher said.
       Originally, City Council had funded the four centers only through March 31, but Butcher told council that efficiency measures have kept costs down, so there is some “rollover” money to allow Westside to operate under city control into April.

Visitors to the Sunflower Festival March 20 check out some of the displays by local businesses and by Westside Community Center volunteers inside the center gym.
Westside Pioneer photo

City Councilmember Sean Paige shakes out his Elvis wig after hitting the water for the first time in the festival's dunk tank.
Westside Pioneer photo

       The other three centers (Deerfield, Hillside and Meadows) will continue with city staff through the end of this year, using $462,000 in emergency funds that will also keep a separate therapeutic recreation program alive. Council agreed to this by consensus (the allocation is set for formal approval in April), with only Randy Purvis and Daryl Glenn demurring, basically on the grounds that more urgent city needs are going unfunded in a very tight budget year. Councilman Sean Paige has pushed the hardest to keep the centers open. Calling them “integral to the neighborhood,” he sees the funding as a “bridge” to give center advocates nine more months to line up grants, donations or support from outside entities to make them self-sustaining.
       So far, volunteers have raised only about $10,000 in donations, but Paige believes his goal is possible, and pledged to continue being a part of the effort.
       At the close of the March 23 meeting, Mayor Lionel Rivera expressed gratitude that Woodmen Valley Chapel had come forward. By taking up the slack for the Westside Center, “it allowed City Council to provide a subsidy [for the other centers] at a much, much lower rate than in the past,” he said.
       However, it became apparent - based on citizen comments at the March 23 meeting - that the Westside Community Center LLC's plan is opposed by some people. One of these is Karen Fleming, who helped start the community garden at Westside, led the organization of the Sunflower Festival fundraiser at the center March 20 and has advocated a “cross-cultural” tie between the garden and artistic center programs. Clearly not believing this could happen with the LLC, she pleaded with council to give her and those who agree with her “the same opportunity the other centers have” to raise money while keeping it going as is. “Right now everything is behind closed doors and it feels scary and sad,” she said.
       Also, based on some allegations at the meeting and some that have been made at other times, it has become evident that certain untrue rumors have been started about the Woodmen Valley Chapel enterprise. A separate article (starting on Page 1) addresses these allegations, point by point.
       Possibly contributing to the rumor mill, city staffers - concerned about legal issues - have felt obligated not to publicly reveal details about the LLC's proposal that had been submitted to the city in late February as part of a formal request for proposals (RFP) process. At the March 22 meeting, in fact, City Parks Director Paul Butcher did not even say the church's name - although the identity eventually came out at the March 23 council meeting, when long-time city volunteer Jan Doran, who is a Woodmen church member, came to the podium during the citizen discussion period to defend it against critics who had spoken earlier. Citing church outreach efforts on public cleanups, military support and assistance to people trying to rise up from homelessness, ”we've demonstrated our support and intent,” Doran said. “We're trying to do what City Council asked the community to do, to step up. Our intentions are honorable, and we hope you will trust our integrity.”
       Butcher followed with specifics about some aspects of the LLC plan, in direct response to the earlier criticism (including a couple of the rumors), emphasizing that Woodmen is not planning to turn the facility into a church or to make it exclusive in any way.
       The final decision on the Woodmen plan will be made by the City Procurement office, which began negotiating with church representatives late last week. Assuming an agreement is reached - and Butcher said he was “extraordinarily confident” it will be - the LLC will be given a contract for the rest of this year, with the right of first refusal on continuing the agreement after this year and again after the next, Butcher explained.
       Concerned about council's lack of involvement in the overall contracting process, Mayor Lionel Rivera suggested March 22 that council look at setting a policy in that regard, but was advised by the City Attorney's Office that council had delegated that power to city staff and could not change that now.

Westside Pioneer article