Westside Stories of the Year
Community Center restart tops 2010 list
Woodmen, which has previously provided assistance to indigent families at the Westside's Express Inn, leased the former school facility at 1628 W. Bijou St. at a time when the money-strapped city was on the verge of shutting down all four of its community centers - an action that was later cited by Mayor Lionel Rivera as one that helped the city afford to keep the other three afloat.
Our top story in 2009 had been the changes in the Westside schools, but that moved down the list in 2010, with students, parents and staff gradually adapting to the new configuration, and a new D-11 gifted charter school seamlessly starting in the former Pike Elementary building.
1. Westside Community Center - Going into January 2010, the city- operated Westside Center was like the city's other three, with city money budgeted only through the end of March. All four had required heavy city subsidies to operate (an 80-20 split was estimated for West), which the city could no longer afford. A city request for proposals from the private sector to take over any of the centers attracted only one response, from the Woodmen Valley Chapel for the Westside site only. According to Woodmen's Dick Siever, who became the center director, the church saw the Westside as an ideal area for its goal of stabilizing families in a less affluent area. The most colorful achievements in 2010 were the relocation of the Westside CARES pantry in April and the one-day creation of a large raised-bed garden in October. Hundreds of volunteers were involved in these workdays, many of them from the Woodmen church, plus a cadet contingent from the Air Force Academy in April. Other chapel efforts since moving in have included consolidating center programs and services, organizing after-school activities, making connections with community-minded nonprofits on the Westside, sprucing up the facility's interior, upgrading playground equipment and creating additional off- street paved parking. The chapel has signed a three-year lease with the city of Colorado Springs to run the center. It received no government support in 2010, but with slightly more revenues available for 2011, City Council has budgeted $75,000 to help with center costs.
2. Medical marijuana - The Westside has become a popular location for medical marijuana sales facilities (called “dispensaries”), with 29 operating as of December and West Colorado Avenue's mixed-use zone containing 15 of them. Of those, all but two are 100 feet or less from homes - nine of them right next door. This kind of situation is a major concern for Westsiders, as shown by responses to an Organiza-tion of Westside Neighbors (OWN) survey this fall that strongly supported the MMJ industry as a way to help people in pain but also the desire for standoff distances between homes and dispensaries. Ignoring these results, a City
3. Rock Ledge Ranch saved - As with the community centers, city subsidies for the city-owned, 230-acre, historically styled working ranch at the southeast corner of the Garden of the Gods only lasted through the first quarter of 2010. But even before the first of the year, the ranch's friends group - the Living History Association (LHA), led by its president, Ron Wright - was off and running with a fundraising campaign and the slogan (regarding potential closure) of “not now, not ever.” The effort additionally involved picking up sponsorships and adding percentages from vendors; paring back programs, part-time staff and various expenditures in pursuit of cost-effectiveness, even eliminating Sunday from the summer schedule (filling in that slow-gate weekend day with money-making activities, such as private parties or weddings).
The campaign carried Rock Ledge through the year, at which time the LHA had to go to battle once more, when, despite slightly improved revenues, the city manager's proposed budget for 2011 showed zero for the ranch. However, the LHA persuaded City Council to provide $88,000. Now, Wright and Friends have started a new fundraising campaign, applying donations and ranch profits to make up the difference between the $88,000 and the $136,000 needed to keep the ranch going all through the coming year.
4. Park volunteering - The city cutbacks, which kicked in after voters turned down a city tax increase proposal in November 2009, had the largest effect on City Parks, which had already seen its budget slashed by a third the year before. Restrooms remained closed. Maintenance was reduced even more. Watering and weeding were all but eliminated, except in 13 parks that were deemed “major.” Even trash cans were removed. That's where citizens came in. On the Westside, help appeared (in some cases, it was already there) from individuals, businesses, groups and nonprofits. They weeded, picked up trash and even planted a garden (at Blunt Park). Such efforts allowed trash cans to remain at Thorndale, Bristol, Jackson and Westmoor parks and for enhanced watering to occur at Thorndale and in the grassy, landscaped area round the Prospector statue off 21st Street at Highway 24.
To allow park interpretation to continue, the volunteer Friends of Garden of the Gods (FOGG) and the Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center's foundation joined to cover the costs of the city interpreter's salary. FOGG also continued its longstanding cleanup work of the popular city park and 30th Street on either side of the center. At the Red Rock Canyon Open Space, the Friends of Red Rock Canyon took on more responsibility for trail maintenance. This year's budget restores trash cans in the non-“major” parks, as well as watering and maintenance.
5. Homeless situation - “In just a year, the area has seen a change in the downtown/ Westside scene, from scattered and often hidden campsites to a much larger, very visual 'tent city' lining parts of Monument and Fountain creeks.” So began the Pioneer's 2009 Stories of the Year piece about transient camping (which we ranked seventh last year). The news is better now. Receiving continued complaints from citizens, along with concerns about adverse environmental impacts on Fountain Creek, City Council passed a no-camping ordinance last February. Almost immediately, the numbers began diminishing, from 400 to 500 semi- permanent campsites to just 100 to 150 camps by “hard-core” types that move around to avoid being caught, according to police.
Camper supporters' ghastly predictions of victimization by heavy-handed police have proven untrue: The PD's Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) has yet to even ticket anyone under the ordinance. HOT focuses instead on helping would-be campers find indoor shelter, assistance and jobs. However, real homelessness persists. On the Westside, the Express Inn at Eighth and Cimarron streets, through its C-C Boarding Home Annex, continues a program to provide low-cost housing and other assistance to individuals and families who've hit hard times.
6. Section 16 - Going back to the early 1970s, either El Paso County or Colorado Springs had leased the Section 16's scenic 640 acres off Gold Camp Road from the State Land Board (SLB) for public use. Buying Section 16 was one of the major goals when voters first approved the tenth-of-a-cent Trails, Open Space and Parks (TOPS) tax in 1997. However, a deal with the SLB could not be struck. Meanwhile, over the years, volunteers were extending the Intemann Trail through the property, making it more accessible to the public, and the city was busy buying adjacent open-space properties (Red Rock Canyon and White Acres).
In the last five years the SLB's lease price to the city had soared to $40,000 a year - an expense that was covered by a grant from Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO). But that grant was to expire this month, along with a separate GOCO grant offer to pay $1 million of a city TOPS purchase, and the SLB lease was projected to jump to $156,000 annually. Instead, this month the city celebrated purchasing Section 16 (aided by a new state law that eased negotiations). The city will pay the bulk of the $4,181,000 total cost from TOPS tax revenues, aided by the GOCO grant and another quarter of a million from El Paso County and other local entities. Access is from the Section 16 trailhead on Gold Camp Road, about half a mile southeast of 26th Street.
7. Community gardens - For the third straight year, Pikes Peak Urban Gardens (PPUG) in 2010 added a public garden to the Westside. A fourth year is a certainty, because volunteers built 70 raised beds outside the Westside Community Center and filled them with soil in October. The beds are already being rented and will be ready for planting this spring. The community garden with growing things in 2010 was at Vermijo Park, in what used to be part of the parking area west of the baseball field. In all, 17 plots there - each 20 by 15 feet, except for three slightly larger ones - were rented by different individuals, with some of the produce earmarked for the Care & Share pantry. It was the first year for community gardens in city parks - a brainstorm of PPUG founder/director Larry Stebbins. He and City Parks officials chose five around the city, including Vermijo and West Center, based on the formula of sunlight, water availability, parking, and not displacing a previous use. The previous Westside community gardens started by PPUG are at Holy Theophany Church on North Chestnut Street (in 2008) and a vacant lot at Pikes Peak Avenue near 28th Street (in 2009). The plan Stebbins follows is to manage such gardens the first year, gradually handing off to volunteer planters within a year or so.
8. Coronado High - There were two big stories regarding the Westside's flagship high school in 2010. One was the successful effort that allowed the 40th annual Homecoming Parade to take place through Old Colorado City, featuring roaring kids, marching bands, colorful floats and various entries from Coronado as well as its Westside feeder schools. The other was the hiring of David Engstrom as principal after Susan Humphrey retired at the end of the 2009-10 school year. He is a former business owner and business education teacher. Ironically, what made him want to stay at Coronado and become its principal was seeing the old- fashioned exuberance of the parade when he'd first been assigned to the school as an assistant principal five years ago. “I don't ever want to leave this place,” he remembered
9. Fillmore Street corridor - A broad strategy is taking shape to relieve traffic on Fillmore Street, particularly where it backs up at the three-way intersection with Chestnut Street and the I-25 on/off ramps. A city study during the past year, which involved numerous meetings with neighborhoods and business people, settled on an alternative that would swing Chestnut west a few hundred feet to have its own traffic signal at what is now the Parker Street intersecton at Fillmore (with most of Parker becoming a cul de sac).
The design phase will begin in 2011. A key element, still to be negotiated, is how the new Chestnut alignment will go through the graded but undeveloped 14-acre Palmer House property north of the current intersection, where a commercial center is planned. The roadwork must occur by 2014, according to officials, because it will use Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) funds, and the 10-year RTA program sunsets in that year. Closely related to relieving traffic on the Fillmore corridor is the recent urgency to complete the extension of Centennial Boulevard. (See Story 10, which follows.)
10. Centennial extension/MVS rezoning - A quarter of a century ago, city transportation planners developed the concept of continuing Centennial Boulevard south from Fillmore Street to the Fontanero/I-25 interchange, as a way of unclogging Fillmore and reducing “cut-through” on Chestnut Street through the Mesa Springs neighborhood. The extension was included on the RTA list that voters approved in 2004, but as a low-priority “C” project that would have been affordable only in a very strong economy (which hasn't occurred). In the past year, partly from recent findings in the Fillmore corridor study (see preceding Story 9) and partly from increased development interest in that area, the extension has risen in importance. The complicated rezoning agreement for the 47-acre MVS property, approved by City Council in December, included a deal to finish Centennial between Fillmore and Van Buren streets (providing access to the MVS parcel should developers go ahead with a housing subdivision there) and give the city right of way to build the remaining mile or so from Van Buren to Fontanero as a high-priority RTA project (assuming voters OK the program's continuation in 2014).
11. Territory Days - Over an 18-year span, Lynda Dunne had built the annual three-day festival into a big money-maker for the Old Colorado City Associates (OCCA) business group. But disagreements with a new OCCA board led to her resignation in November 2009. To replace her, the board found Jim Wear, an experienced area promoter. Despite having less than half a year to prepare, Wear oversaw an event May 29-31 that may have been the biggest in the event's 35-year history, yet also had virtually no problems. He especially focused on T-Days' perennial problem with parking. Innovations he put in place included a second shuttle bus parking lot at Rock Ledge Ranch (in addition to Coronado High School), additional handicapped spaces, a secured lot for motorcycles and a similarly secured area within the event itself for bicycles.
12. Gold Hill Mesa - The Gold Hill Mesa partners were able to buy back more than 50 lots belonging to John Laing Homes that had been frozen when that homebuilding company went bankrupt in 2008. This ensures that the owners of the 210-acre commercial /residential project will be able to infill numerous empty lots in its 168-unit Filing 1 area just north of Lower Gold Camp Road and to retain its traditional neighborhood development style, according to lead Gold Hill developer Bob Willard. Laing had once been the only builder. The development has brought in three since Laing folded - all of which were featured last August when Gold Hill was a host site for the Colorado Springs Homebuilders Associa-tion's annual Parade of Homes.
13. Fountain Creek project - Started in June 2009 (and ranked 10th in our Stories of the Year for '09), this major channel upgrade along a 3,000-foot stretch of the creek finished up in April of this year. Where there had been a meandering stream with eroded banks - coming close to undercutting Highway 24 in places - there is now a waterway that looks and behaves the way a creek naturally would, yet at the same time flows through a carefully shaped channel and flood plain that's been vegetated with a multitude of trees, plants and grasses. The project also includes improvements to keep old gold mill tailings from washing into the creek. The end cost was about $3.2 million - $1.61 from the city's Stormwater Enterprise (its last major project from being shut down), $1.02 million from Gold Hill Mesa and $550,000 from CDOT).
14. Public schools - The shakeout from the District 11 school consolidation continued in 2010, though not with the kinds of problems some opponents had predicted (such as enrollment drops and facility shortfalls) when the school board took the action in 2009 that closed Pike, Whittier and Washington schools and fanned their students out to Bristol, Howbert, Jackson and the new West Elementary. D-11 completed additions in January to help Howbert and Jackson handle their increased enrollments.
Plans are continuing to turn West Elementary and West Middle School into a true K-8 school, possibly by 2011-12. In that regard, the elementary's classtime hours have already been extended to match the middle school's, thus giving staff at both schools better opportunities to meet and discuss related issues in such a change. West Elementary also finally solved the “rush hour” traffic problem in front of its main entrance on 20th Street, although it took a year to convince the powers that be that a crossing guard was needed. Another consolidation ripple effect: The new Academy for Advanced & Creative Learning (AACL), a K-8 gifted-student charter school, opened last fall in the former Pike building on North Chestnut Street.
15. Glen Eyrie /Boy Scouts - It was generally agreed that Colorado Springs founder William Palmer would have loved what happened at Glen Eyrie May 14-16 - a collaboration between the Boy Scouts of America's Pikes Peak Council and the Navigators organization (which has owned and operated the 800-acre estate as a conference ministry for more than half a century). For the first time, Glen Eyrie hosted a Camporee in which close to 200 Scouts and leaders camped two nights on a sports field downhill from Palmer's castle and did about 10 hours of work on Glen Eyrie trails, under the guidance of experienced area crew leaders. Both Glen Eyrie and Scout leaders said they were pleased with the result and hope the event leads to a lasting collaboration. It didn't hurt that Jack McQueeney, executive director of Glen Eyrie, is a former scout leader himself with a son who just made Eagle Scout. As for Palmer, who designed Glen Eyrie and lived there until his death in 1909 - during his days, he oversaw construction of many of the trails and was known to lead visiting children on hikes.
16. Codell Trail in Red Rock Canyon Open Space - A volunteer workday in September built most of this roughly 1,600-foot trail - much of it atop a hogback near the eastern boundary of the 790-acre open space. Offering a scenic loop off the more direct Hogback Valley Trail, Codell features include views of the city and, down the slope below it (off present-day 31st Street), the remains of the Colorado-Philadelphia gold mill that closed in 1911. Hikers can also get close-up looks at Codell sandstone formations and paleontological finds alongside the trail. Several weeks after the September project, a smaller crew went back and upgraded a 200-foot-long former “social trail,” fixing its drainage issues and turning it into the trail's south link to the Hogback Valley Trail. The Codell Trail project was organized by the Friends of Red Rock Canyon, with support from City Parks. The lead volunteer, Bob Johnson, also had headed up the Boy Scout Glen Eyrie project and is now the president of Friends of Red Rock Canyon.
17. Dave Hughes - He may be 82 years old now, but it's easy for people to forget that about the retired Army colonel and longtime Westside civic leader. His activities in 2010 included almost singlehandedly fundraising $6,000 to help keep the Westside Community Center from closing; continued leadership with the Old Colorado City Historical Society (OCCHS) website, which he had set up in 1997 and which keeps being found by people around the country who had early Colorado City descendants; and his recent discovery and OCCHS procurement of an original printing of the Colorado City's first plat map (the Fosdick Plat), which had included the naming and unchanged layout of present-day Colorado Avenue. In honor of Hughes' assistance, the Woodmen Valley Chapel named the gymnasium at the Westside Center after him this year. He was also dubbed the “Westside Recipient” for the Coronado High School Homecoming Parade - not only for his work to revitalize Old Colorado City dating back to the 1970s but for helping set up the school's first wireless network 13 years ago.
18. Transportation impacts - Between road realignments, streetwork and Colorado Springs Utilities service upgrades, the Westside had a busy 2010. The biggest impact came from the 21st Street/Highway 24 safety project last summer, which reduced highway traffic to one lane each way at times while creating offset left-turn lanes from the highway, putting a median in 21st Street south of the highway and adding a northbound through lane for 21st up to the bridge over Fountain Creek. A major Utilities project, expected to finish before Christmas, is a water- line replacement along 21st Street between Lower Gold Camp Road and Villa de Mesa Drive. Other major work included the ongoing Manitou Boulevard sidewalk project, the 31st Street chipseal and sewer-line replacement jobs and the Uintah Street fireflow upgrade.
19. Corporate Ridge - Seeking to solve problems with space, cost and aging buildings, El Paso County worked out a deal to buy an office building and parking garage at the former Intel site on Garden of the Gods Road. The earliest impact will be felt on the Westside, with the the relocation of Department of Human Services (DHS) operations in the buildings at 17 and 105 N. Spruce St., which typically involve more than 600 people a day, including clients and county staff. The move is anticipated in January or February. Also relocating to Corporate Ridge (dates as yet unspecified) are the Health Department, Pikes Peak Workforce Center, Clerk and Recorder, Assessor, Treasurer and Office of Emergency Management, according to county plans.
20. Calming cancelled - For 10 years, 17th Street had been in the queue for traffic calming improvements, and for Broadway Street it was 7 years. But the wait ended when a belt-tightening city government axed the program entirely in 2010. The work would have chiefly involved traffic islands and corner bumpouts to encourage motorists to slow down. Both neighborhoods are similar by being in residential areas with schools (although Buena Vista Elementary has since been replaced by the Westside Community Center off 17th Street) and streets that are used by “cut-through” traffic. In August 2007, 17th Street had been ranked the city's highest priority calming site (Broadway was fourth), but money started becoming an issue, and a 17th Street meeting in 2008 rejected some of the city's plans that had been approved by different people in the same neighborhood several years earlier.
Honorable mentions - After a seven-year interlude, work resumed on the Midland Trail (off Beckers Lane in Manitou Springs), with a section trail to be built west of 31st Street in 2011… The November election saw no radical changes in Westside representation, with Democrats retaining the seats for District 18 state representative (newly elected Pete Lee) and District 11 state senator (incumbent John Morse) and a Republican (incument Bob Gardner) for District 21 state rep… The Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments (PPACG), with help from several volunteers, pushed forward with a regional sustainability plan despite concerns about achievability and excessive government control… The Colorado Springs Indian Center opened in office space at the Trinity United Methodist Church, 701 N. 20th St. Later in 2010, the center's board took a lead role in planning the September powwow at Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site… Following a fire in August 2009, a 10-unit building at the Stepping Stones condominium complex has been undergoing reconstruction this year, with residency now expected in early January… City cutbacks prevented the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN) from moving ahead on plans for a volunteer historic overlay zone, but the group oversaw the release of the Design Guidelines. The document tells about the Westside's construction history and building features and offers do's and don't's for renovating older structures.
Westside Pioneer article