Parole office moves into 500 West
State using heavily remodeled 10,000-square-foot space to help offenders with ‘re-entry’

       Part of it was once a neighborhood grocery store. Another part was a bar. Now, 10,000 square feet comprising 522 and 516 W. Colorado Ave. have been remodeled for offices of the Colorado Division of Adult Parole, Community Corrections and Youth Offender System.
       The use of the space, by which ex-convicts and low-risk prisoners drop in at different times each week to meet with state officers, is not that different, in terms of types of people, from the Bridge to Awareness drug/alcohol classes for parolees and probationers that had been at the 522 location in previous years, according to Robert McDonald, manager of the Colorado Springs office.
       Until five years ago, the parole agency itself had been nearby, in the third floor of the Veterans Administration building off Spruce and Kiowa streets. It then moved to offices off Sinton Road, but “we've outgrown” that space, he said.
       He added that the agency is pleased with the West Colorado location, which has been remodeled with new interiors, facades and utility services - part of a multi-year renovation by property owners Mark and Lucille Cunningham along the north side of the avenue's West 500 block. The Westside property owners have named the project for that location: “5 West.”
       The state's 7,000 square feet at 522 W. Colorado consists mainly of work space for 25 sworn law enforcement officers, each of whom has a caseload of 40 to 100 people (predominantly adult parolees), McDonald summarized. The Cunninghams also built a lobby at 522 - roughly where the entry area used to be for the grocery store that closed in the '90s.
       The state's move to this location took place about two months ago; an external sign identifying the use will be installed soon, McDonald said.
       A new interior doorway connects 522 and 516. The latter space, which was just being completed this week, will not have interior walls at first, allowing the state to use its 3,000 square feet for large meetings and training exercises.
       Outside access to 516 is through a new side door off a pedestrian walkway - reopened as part of the 5 West renovation - that leads to an existing parking lot behind 5 West.
       “It's such a stark transformation from the decrepit bar [the former Hide 'n Seek] that was there,” Mark Cunningham said of the 516 remodel.
       The floor is a smooth layer of carpet now, but before there were “multiple levels of floors,” he said.
       The work in 516 reflects his overall renovation philosophy, called “adaptive reuse,” that's being applied to all the buildings in the block. Although they were built at different times (between 1904 and 1946) and with varying facades, they had all been altered in varying degrees and become mostly run down over the years. As part of the 5 West upgrade, the buildings now have a tan stucco exterior that gives them a same-period look.
       Still, where possible, the original character has been maintained, such as the arched pass-through door inside 516 or the brick interior walls in 506.
       Regarding any Near Westside concerns about having a Community Corrections office in their midst, McDonald said that parolees and inmates “are on their best behavior when they're here” because they want to leave a good impression on their parole officer; plus, failing to meet parole conditions can put an ex-convict back in jail. In fact, McDonald added, “When we open an office in a neighborhood, the crime rate goes down [because] we're adding a bunch of police to the neighborhood. The average citizen may not pay much attention, but the offenders are aware of it.”
       He doesn't deny that parole work can be iffy. He mentioned the statistic that an average of 50 percent of offenders return to law-breaking within three years after being released from prison.
       The services provided by the parole officers are aimed at lowering that rate, not just out of individual compassion but because “every percentage point that we reduce it saves taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars,” McDonald said.
       Services include assistance in all phases of “re-entry” to society. These include finding housing and jobs, obtaining a GED, gaining other education, shaking addictions and helping set up their own “behavioral plans” through which they develop individual goals and work to achieve them, he said.
       While the parole office settles into its new space, the Cunninghams continue to seek out tenants for their roughly 7,000 square feet of remodeled space still available between 506 and 512 W. Colorado. A Denver-area comedy club nearly leased 4,000 square feet last winter, but the deal fell through, Mark Cunningham said.
       A recent addition to 5 West is the building at the corner of Walnut Street (502 W. Colorado) that formerly housed Lee's Liquor store (about 1,300 square feet).
       An exterior paint job matched up its color with the other 5 West buildings, but otherwise, at this time, there are no plans for major façade work or interior modifications, he said.

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