School board OKs deal to give West Center old BV site
City Council to act on plan at May 12 meeting

       A deal that would give the old Buena Vista school site to the City of Colorado Springs for its West Inter-generational Center gained approval from an initially dubious District 11 Board of Education May 6.

Among their other duties year-round, staff and volunteers with the West Intergenerational Center organize games (such as this hotly contested bag race last July) at the annual Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN) summer picnic in Bancroft Park.
Westside Pioneer file photo

       The proposal, negotiated in recent weeks between city and district staffers, will now go before City Council at its May 12 formal meeting, according to City Parks Director Paul Butcher.
       If council also backs the plan, the closing is scheduled May 25. The city and district preferred a title transfer - instead of continuing the city's current lease agreement inside West Middle School because both have concerns about the BV facility's age (the oldest of the three buildings is 98 years old). City Parks would rather have control of that situation if it's going to use the site, Butcher indicated at the meeting (“it's a good property but not perfect,” he said), while the district should avoid maintenance liability for a location it no longer needs, explained John Elliott, D-11's executive director of contracting and procurement.
       The deal will affect Westsiders in terms of community and school activities. It lets the city move the West Center to BV, and District 11 to take over the center's current space, which will become part of the new Westside Elementary that's opening inside West Middle School this August.
       Under the plan, the city will pay nothing for the 2.8 acre BV site and its 32,000 square feet of buildings, and the district will even give the city $200,000 up-front to install air-conditioning and $25,000 to cover increased operating costs - plus a warranty of one year on all items and five years on gas and water pipes. These unexpected (and potentially unknown) expenses caused some consternation from school board members before the final 5-2 vote.
       Board member Bob Null, one of the two “no” votes (the other was Charles Bobbitt), especially criticized the five-year warranty when “we're hearing what bad shape this place is in.”
       Frank Bernhard, head of facilities for the district, remonstrated that if the city had gotten all it wanted, the pipe warranty would have been for 20 years. The pipes “will probably serve five years without needing any work,” he said.
       The negotiations were tied in large part to the current lease deal at West. In that arrangement, the city, which paid nearly all the costs of adding the West Center space 17 years ago, cannot be evicted unless the school district provides it with a “comparable” relocation.
       Board member Jan Tanner, who eventually voted with the majority, expressed discontent at only just finding out that negotiations had led to a title transfer. “When we talked about moving the elementary schools into West, we didn't talk about selling properties,” she said. “So when we got this agenda item, I was a little taken aback.”
       She offered an amendment to the deal to give District 11 right of first refusal if in the future the city ever decided to sell the Buena Vista property, but Elliott indicated that might be a deal-breaker and reassured the board that under zoning laws it was very unlikely the site would ever become anything but a park, church, school or community center. The amendment lost on a 4-3 vote (Tanner in the minority, joined by Null and Bobbitt).
       The district had inititated the negotiations with the city in early March, after the school board voted to close three existing elementaries on the older Westside and create the new one.
       The city plans to put the center into the newest (westernmost) of the BV buildings, a one-story with a gym that's about 13,000 square feet in size. Another 14,000 square feet is in what's now the school's three-level main building, and there are 3,500 square feet in the joined cottages east of that. The Pikes Peak Community Action Agency and the Billie Spielman Center, providing assistance to the needy (previously as part of the West Center), will take over about half of the cottage space, Butcher said.
       According to E.D. Rucker, the West Center director, the city would like to attract various entities or individuals to lease or rent other parts of the space, long- or short-term. Described as a “community center” by Butcher, West offers programs and classes for all ages, some free and some for fees.
       Rucker said he's enthusiastic about the possibilities in the new location. The newer building is about twice the size of the current West Center and, although the center can use any of the West School facilities during off-hours, it's preferable to have space that's always available, Rucker has said.
       Complicating terminology on the whole arrangement is that while the site became available because the current Buena Vista Elementary is closing, the school's Montessori side will carry the name “Buena Vista” to its new location at the site of Washington Elementary, which is also closing. (See the story that starts on this page.)

Westside Pioneer article