‘07 stories of the year: Westside had plenty to build on

       With the Cimarron bridge closed until mid-May, east-west transportation - a major issue in 2007 - will continue being a driving factor during the first several months of 2008.
       North-south was at least on the plus side going into the new year, with the COSMIX project opening six lanes on I-25 all the way through town just in time for Christmas.
       Construction work in general dominates the Westside Pioneer's 2007 Stories of the Year, taking up four of the top five places and 10 of our total 20.
       1. COSMIX/Cimarron - I-25 was also our number one story last year, and with good reason. Backhoes and back-ups have been part of the everyday experience for Westsiders driving on or crossing under/over the interstate since mid-2005. But going into 2008, all the major work has finally been completed in the $150 million project to widen I-25 north between Cimarron Street and Academy Boulevard and to replace or upgrade its bridges.
       A major milestone was the Bijou bridge, which was closed from Jan. 3 to Oct. 1 while the old span was torn down and a wider, prettier one built in its place. The work included aesthetic lighting and landscaping in the block of Bijou just west of the bridge.
       Although never closed, Colorado Avenue under the interstate seldom had more than three lanes open most of the year while the bridge above it was widened to six lanes. But residents and businesses were looking forward to an aesthetic finale early in 2008, with crews installing dressier sidewalks, a Midland Trail connection and new avenue pavement.
       The old Cimarron bridge over Conejos Street and the railroad tracks was demolished in two parts. Rock-rimmon Constructors, the I-25 contractor pulverized the south side last spring, and this fall the city hired Lawrence Construction to take down the north side and build a new bridge. The budget, including demo and design, is $8.57 million, funded by the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority (RTA).
       2. Old Colorado City Library upgrade - After a six-month closure for major interior work, the local branch's Carnegie library reopened in October. Part of a multi-phase preservation effort, the $800,000 project restored the 103-year-old structure to some of its original interior design (example: the semi-circular main desk in the center) and introduced modern technology (example: wireless connectivity). During the closure, library programs relocated to other locations, and a Book- mobile came twice a week. Library leaders are now looking ahead to 2008, when improvements to the parking lot (Phase 3) should wrap up the roughly $1.2 million reconstruction that has occurred over the past four years. The project has been funded primarily through grants and donations - more than $1 million, spreaheaded by the Pikes Peak Library District Foundation.
       3. St. Patrick's Day Parade relocation - For the rest of Colorado Springs, the big news at the 2007 St. Patrick's Day Parade was the arrest (and eventual non-conviction) of seven anti-war protesters associated with the Bookman float. But for Westsiders as a whole, the issue was that the parade was downtown, instead of in Old Colorado City. The location change was a chance for the parade to be less crowded and more profitable, organizer John O'Donnell explained last January. Several Westside groups and businesses that had previously participated in the annual event boycotted it; however, the parade reached its approximate maximum of 100 entries anyway. The parade had been in Old Colorado City at least 25 years, with John and his wife Carol O'Donnell organizing it for the last 23 of those.
       4. Coronado High's new auditorium - Plans from the original structure, dated 1968, showed reinforced exterior walls; however, the contractor built them hollow. The discovery in November, meant it would be unsafe to build up a higher structure (as previously planned) from the old walls. Tearing them down and building solid new walls has not only increased the project cost, it's also delayed the project until summer 2008 - a big disappointment to this year's seniors. But students are getting to help design a new façade for the auditorium's parking-lot-facing rear wall - an opportunity that would never have existed otherwise.
       5. West Kiowa duplex project - For over a century, a little neighborhood had aged quietly around the 3300 block of West Kiowa Street. Little could anyone know that a legal plat, written before even the oldest of the area's residents had been born, would surface in 2007 in the form of a duplex project at 3325 W. Kiowa that is still causing heartburn for neighbors as the New Year rolls around. One of the issues is shared by all residents - the city allowing the developer to scrape the lower portions of a red rock formation to make room for one of the buildings. Other issues include conflicting surveys, drainage complications, whether a grading plan has been followed, and why a plat from 1889 could still be used in modern times. The issue got to City Council, whose members sympathized but could do little except encourage city staff to help where possible. Only two of the envisioned buildings have received building permits (and are under construction) so far.
       6. Old Colorado City - The historic shopping district had several highlights in 2007, arguably topped by the Old Colorado City Associates (OCCA) merchants group hiring Karen Earley in November as its first full-time marketing director. The chief goals of her job are to create revenue-producing events and make Old Town a more popular destination shopping location. The hiring was largely made possible by one of the OCCA's most successful Territory Days ever May 26- 28 (the group's take includes a percentage of vendor sales).
       Other notable Old Colorado City happenings in '07: The public parking lots were freshly paved (as was Colorado Avenue between Walnut and 30th streets); the Security & Maintenance District hired off-duty cops, during summer and the Christmas season, for the first time in several years; the nearly 50-year-old, 90-foot-tall sign that once advertised Surplus City was taken down; the annual Good Times Car Show added a block and drew nearly 400 cars, its most ever; and 84 Colorado Avenue revocable-permit citations (most of them in Old Colorado City) were torn up because City Council decided a better ordinance is needed.
       7. Development/redevelopment - Several good-sized developments finished, made headway or got started in '07. Prominent among these were the medically oriented projects around Centennial Boule-vard and Fillmore Street. These included the Center at Centennial, which provides sub-acute rehabilitation care; the Centennial Health facility (containing medical services and headquarters for the Colorado Springs Osteopathic Foundation); and the final building in the Kissing Camels Office Park. In its early stages is the 44-acre future Colorado Springs Health Partners (CSHP) medical campus (for which there was extensive grading this year, as well as construction of a quarter-mile of the future Centennial Boulevard extension).
       Another medical facility. which opened last January on the Near Westside, is the 10,000-square-foot Emergicare for walk-in urgent-care patients.
       Other major new/completed construction included the Calvary Worship Center off King Street and the 3,200-square-foot Bank at Broadmoor-Westside at 3216 W. Colorado Ave.
       Projects in different stages of development include the 13-acre site, consisting mainly of the former Palmer House motel, off Fillmore and Chestnut streets (hotel demolition was occuring late in '07); and the 65-space Rockies RV Resort, off Garner Street. Extensive redevelopment of older properties was taking place in the 500 block and 1700 blocks of West Colorado Avenue. A proposal submitted in December and slated for City Planning review is the 57-lot Uintah Bluffs off Manitou Boulevard.
       8. Businesses - New businesses opening on the Westside included Ace Hardware at Uintah Gardens (in the same space where the store that's now at West Wind shopping center used to be), Henri's by Jorge (in Old Colorado City, at the site of the long-popular Henri's restaurant that had closed in 2006) and Terra Nova Engineering (in the historic, former Midland School building). Business changes included Ranch Steakhouse becoming the Fire Rock Grill (after natural beef rancher/proponent Mike Callicrate left in a quality disagreement with former partner Neil McMurry), Junior Achievement of Southern Colorado offices relocating to a converted older house on the Near Westside, and Walgreens taking over the two Westside Longs Drug stores (after Longs decided to pull out of Colorado). The Uintah Gardens shopping center was a story in itself, repaving and landscaping its parking lot and updating store facades, while King Soopers remodeled inside and out and added a gas station, Walgreens relocated from its 11,000-square-foot unit at the center's north end to its newly built standalone store nearer 19th and Uintah streets, after which Big 5 Sporting Goods moved into the former Walgreens spot.
       9. Highway 24 expansion planning - Ranked number 1 after 2005 and 3 after 2006, this subject dropped down our list in '07, not because it has lost importance but because relatively little happened. The planning mostly shifted to a greenway element that would take advantage of the highway's proximity to Fountain Creek by opening up creekside recreation and open space. However, greenway plans remained in the conceptual stages in '07. One of the key issues is money. Because federal highway funding would only cover road-related aspects of the expansion, other sources, such as private or local-government entities, would be needed for aesthetic amenities, consultants explained. As for the roadway plans, CDOT slipped a year from its original statement that it would present a “preferred alternative” to the public in early '07. Several issues are still being discussed with local government representatives and citizens.
       10. School upgrades - While Coronado was wrestling with its auditorium replacement (number four above), major renovations - funded from the 2004-05 District 11 bond issue - were completed on schedule and within budget at three other Westside schools last summer. Both Washington Elementary and Holmes Middle School were retrofitted for geothermal climate control. Washington, like Bristol School, had been built in the '70s with a once-trendy (later code-violating) open-classroom design; both had to be largely gutted to put in hard walls. Bristol also received air conditioning, not with geothermal, but with an A/C add-on to a modern system that had been installed in a bond issue several years ago.
       11. School testing - Two more Westside schools moved into the High range in their Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP) testing in '07. These were Midland Elementary and West Middle School, both of which rose from Average on their students' scores in '06 (generally based on how many students scored proficient or better on the CSAPs). Improving within their Excellent status (which both had attained in '06) were Holmes Middle School and Howbert Elementary. Others staying in the High range are Coronado High School and Jackson Elementary. In other noteworthy CSAP testing, proficiency scores of 90 or better were recorded by Howbert third-grade math, reading and writing; Midland, third-grade math; and Pikes Elementary, third-grade reading.
       12. Historic overlay - The Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN) was able to move forward in '07 on a long-proposed voluntary historic overlay zone for the older Westside. The key breakthrough was gaining City Council approval last spring to provide matching funds for a grant from the the State Historical Fund. The cumulative $37,000 award enabled OWN to hire an architect to draft guidelines that will eventually lead to historically correct standards for Westsiders wanting to remodel the facades of their older businesses and/or homes. Public meetings on the draft guidelines are anticipated in the summer of '08.
       13. St. Vrain and 18th - This issue was memorable more for what didn't happen than what did. What didn't happen was the total redo of a narrow, historic access between one neighborhood side street (18th) and another (St. Vrain). City Traffic Engineering had proposed such an upgrade last summer, after hearing a complaint from a newer resident in that vicinity and determining that the intersection didn't meet modern safety codes. However, the first step in the city's plan - temporarily closing the access altogether - angered older residents who said no one used it but locals and there'd never been an accident. Traffic engineers decided to go ahead with the widening - reopening the gap in the meantime as a one-way access - until discovering the work would cost nearly twice the anticipated $40,000. A survey of residents revealed support to restore the access to two-way. This has since occurred.
       14. Section 16 - For more than three decades, either El Paso County or Colorado Springs has leased Section 16 - a state-owned 640-acre forest-and- meadow property in the foothills above the Westside - as recreational open space. But leasing costs have skyrocketed and development pressures have increased. In late '07, the state's Great Outdoors Colorado (GoCo) gave City Parks a $1 million grant to help buy it outright. The purchase, also aided by the city's Trails, Open Space and Parks (TOPS) tenth-of-a-percent sales tax, is tentatively slated for 2010, when the city's current lease expires.
       15. Deaths - The Westside mourned two lost leaders in 2007 - Mikki Kraushaar, who had directed Silver Key Senior Services for 32 years until her 2004 retirement; and Jim Larsen, a former Colorado Springs Fire Department battalion chief and OWN board memberwho'd retired in 2005. Other notable losses were Westside resident Bill Eskeldson, who had led aggregate mining efforts in the region in the '50s and '60s; Shirley Mitton, respected artist and co-owner of the El Dorado Gallery in Old Colorado City; and Helen Randal, owner of the Book Sleuth bookstore in Old Colorado City.
       16. Transiency issues - For years a number of homeless individuals, often single men with drug or alcohol issues, have camped along Fountain Creek and in the hills above the Westside and Manitou Springs. Potential dangers became clear in '07 when one transient shot another on the creekside behind the Sonic restaurant and, later in the year, an unknown transient was believed to have started a 27-acre forest fire above Manitou. Along the creek, City Police have historically run monthly sweeps to eliminate homeless camps for health/safety reasons. This effort, in conjunction with the non-profit Keep Colorado Springs Beautiful (KCSB), is now being overseen by its Code Enforcement division.
       17. Gold Hill Mesa - 2007 was a busy year for the Westside's biggest development project, although hoped-for sales were hampered by the nationwide housing slump. The latter turn of events delayed Gold Hill's widening of 21st Street north of Lower Gold Camp Road until 2008. Activities included unveiling several model homes, starting construction on the first of two detention ponds south of Fountain Creek that will take in stormwater from the property's two major drainage basins, and submitting plans for Filing 2 (73 houses on 16 acres). The current homes on the site are on the 54-unit Filing 1 and 1A.
       18. Red Rock Canyon Open Space - In its fourth year since purchasing the popular property, City Parks continued to implement its master plan. Work included a new picnic area, a closer-in parking lot and a new trail from the main parking lot, completion of the canyon-traversing Roundup Trail and volunteer construction of a freeride area for trick cyclists. Meanwhile, the volunteer Friends of Red Rock Canyon (FORC) was nearing its goal of raising close to $100,000 toward deconstructing the former Bock family house into a shelter/information pavilion.
       19. Rock Ledge Ranch - The city-owned historic site celebrated the 100th anniversary of its Orchard House in '07. The building, originally constructed by Colorado Springs founder William Palmer, also had a $130,000 restoration project on its second and third floors.
       20. Old Colorado City History Center - The center, owned and operated by the volunteer Old Colorado City Historical Society (OCCHS), marked its 10th year in '07. A milestone was the republishing of the 1925 autobiography, “Memories of a Lifetime in the Pike's Peak Region,” by one of Old Colorado City's earliest and most famous residents, Irving Howbert. Commemorating the publishing was a ceremony/ book-signing by Howbert's 91-year-old grandson, also named Irving Howbert.
       Honorable mentions - A Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) project led by City Traffic Engineering, aimed at improving safety and traffic flow at 31st Street and Highway 24, was completed… Colorado Springs Parks finished developing the 5-acre Gold Camp Park off Lower Gold Camp Road for the 300-some households in the Crown Hill Mesa subdivision… Traffic calming improvements were delayed again, but the good news is that when work starts (expected in '08), 17th Street is the city's top priority project, with Broadway Street fourth and Holland Park Boulevard fifth… Local mountain-bicycle enthusiasts worked with El Paso County Parks to develop a trail for recreation and races in Bear Creek Regional Park west of 21st Street…Westsider Jan Martin was elected to an at-large City Council seat in April… Aided by a grant, the Bear Creek Garden Association was able to bring back goats to naturally control weeds in a buffer area designated for its control around the garden off 21st and Rio Grande streets… Silver Key Senior Services hired first Michael Decker, who resigned after half a year, then David Shaffer (who had been brought on by Mikki Kraushaar in 2003) to be its executive director… A $77,000 upgrade was completed to 30th Street next to Glen Eyrie and the Blair Bridge open space parking lot… A restaurant/tavern at 1201 W. Colorado Ave., called the Metropolis, went through neighborhood and Planning Commission reviews and anticipates opening in early '08.

Westside Pioneer article