Westside Stories of the Year
Schools top list – auditorium saga, potential closures, academic honors
Infill construction continued on the Westside in 2008, but with the biggest projects still in the talking stages, school matters took center stage - literally in the case of
the Coronado High School auditorium. In our ranking of the top 20 Westside Stories of the Year, 3 of the first 5 places are school-related (4 if you count Coronado
grad Henry Cejudo's Olympic gold medal).
1. Coronado auditorium - Ending a long, expensive saga for School District 11, the Westside high school's new auditorium opened to rave reviews Sept. 26. An audience of dignitaries, Westside residents and students was treated to performances by the school's performing arts groups. Assistant Principal David Engstrom said “Welcome to our new auditorium,” and before he could go on, spontaneous applause filled the hall. Replacing the original facility from the high school's opening in 1970, the taller, wider new auditorium seats more than twice as many people, has fuller backstage areas and features better lighting and sound. The school has offered to rent the auditorium for Westside community events. Planning quandaries and construction setbacks had delayed the project from the original completion target of December '07 and hiked the cost $3.5 million above the 2004 bond-issue estimate of $1.4 million.
2. Michael Garman Gallery - Because this Old Colorado City anchor business had announced plans to shut down (sometime in 2009), it was already a major story for 2008 when a parapet collapse the afternoon of Nov. 21 rained close to a ton of bricks onto the sidewalk in front of the store at 2418 W. Colorado Ave. Luckily, no one was hurt, and a contractor began remedial facade work in mid-December. One of those unscathed in the collapse was Garman himself, who had returned to town for his last scheduled public signing that weekend. But the famous sculptor, who had lived and worked in the building since 1975, was less lucky in other ways, having been diagnosed in mid-'08 with congenital heart disease and given two years to live.
3. Westside school honors - Three Westside schools earned major recognition in 2008, as a result of the annual Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP) testing. For the second year in a row, Holmes Middle School won the John Irwin School of Excellence award for scores within the top 8 percent in the state, and in '08 was joined by Howbert Elementary, which soared to 30th best out of Colorado's 1,032 schools. Pike Elementary won a special honor, for having the best score by a Title 1 (low-income) school in the state.
4. Cejudo's Olympic gold - For two years at Coronado High School, Henry Cejudo was undefeated and won two state wrestling championships. But the son of illegal immigrants (who never saw his father after age 4) had even higher aspirations. After graduating from CHS in 2006, he worked steadily at the Olympic Training Center, readying himself for international competition. No one gave him a chance at Beijing in August, but the 21-year-old dynamo upset more celebrated athletes to become the youngest ever to win the Olympic freestyle wrestling crown. Two months later, speaking at an assembly in his honor at Coronado, Cejudo thanked the school for helping his growth. “I basically learned to read and write here,” he said. “You guys are the best.”
5. District 11 school study - Although the district is carefully following the process it announced in November to gather as much input as possible from school officials and the public, it appears inevitable that major changes are coming, and that many of these will occur on the Westside. A consultants' report last fall and comments since then by school administrators and board members have questioned the efficiency of the Westside's small schools as well as the geographical logic (being at the far west end of the city-wide district) of their “magnet” academic programs. D-11 was driven to the study by steadily dropping enrollment and increases in school operating costs. A Westside public meeting on the study will be at Coronado High School, 1590 W. Fillmore St., Thursday, Jan. 8 from 6:30 to 9 p.m.
6. Highway 24 expansion plan - Perhaps 2008's biggest Highway 24 news was that the Colorado Department of Transporta-tion (CDOT) project is farther off than most people thought. A schedule approved by the region's elected officials shows 2016 as the earliest possible date for a full interchange at Eighth Street. CDOT's other envisioned work between there and Manitou Springs (including added lanes and a full interchange at 21st Street) would not take place until 2026 or later. Nevertheless, the state is proceeding with planning efforts, narrowing down the list of affected properties (now at 6 residential and 64 commercial), deciding what's not federally fundable (such as ramps at the future Ridge Road overpass, redevelopment of the Red Rock shopping center and a citizen-proposed traffic- diluting frontage road through Gold Hill Mesa), brainstorming project aesthetics (such as types of sound barriers), and releasing a Recommended Alternative for construction, leading up to an anticipated federal Environ-mental Impact Statement (EIS) submittal in 2010.
7. Roundhouse commercial center - Construction started in early December on this project, which will restore and remodel the 122-year-old building at 21st Street and Highway 24 that had once fixed locomotives for the Midland railway and more recently was the home of Van Briggle Pottery. Outside amenities will include curb, gutter, sidewalk and a new access from Bott Avenue. Two freestanding buildings (to be constructed at later dates) on the 3.1-acre property have also been approved by city planners. A fitness theme is expected to prevail in the roughly 30,000-square-foot roundhouse interior after a physical training firm signed on for the first third of the space. Van Briggle meanwhile has moved its goods into temporary storage while the family-owned business seeks a smaller storefront. Van Briggle retains ownership of the property, leasing with option to buy to developer Griffis-Blessing.
8. Sentinel Ridge - Out of seven controversial projects that were in the talking stages in 2008, this is the one with potentially the most widespread impact. The plan by the Sunrise Company, calling for a gated community of 83 lots on 28 acres of rugged terrain southeast of Fillmore Street and Mesa Road in open land behind Holmes Middle School, has been approved by the City Planning Commission, but neighbors have appealed to City Council. The main complaint is the proposed removal of the hillside overlay designation, which would allow grading for more homes (albeit at a density less than what's master-planned there) and potentially set a precedent for future Sunrise developments in that area. Another worry is the proposed access near Holmes, which could add to current traffic jams at the start and end of school.
9. Six other controversial development proposals - Of these, only the Palmer House commercial center plan at Fillmore and Chestnut streets has faced no public outcry. The concern there was from city planners regarding potential future traffic problems when Fillmore gets widened and the Fillmore/I-25 interchange is replaced. But these issues were resolved and the Palmer House plan received city approval. Builder John Gatto hopes to have some space ready for tenants by mid- 2009.
Citizen criticism has been heard in discussions of the following plans:
- Shoppes at Bear Creek Plaza strip-mall expansion at Highway 24 and Eighth Street (because of the proposed Seventh Street access through a neighborhood).
- A housing subdivision on what's known as White Acres at 26th Street and Gold Camp Road (there's a growing movement to save the scenic 50-acre locale as open space).
- A subdivision called Uintah Bluffs off Manitou Boulevard (because of traffic and slope stability issues). City Planning staff rejected the developer's last plan submittal in '08.
- The Sunrise Company's Cathedral Ridge subdivision on Mesa Road north of Fillmore Street (because of the increased density and blocking of the neighborhood's mountain views).
- A five-unit subdivision, called Horizon View, at 1635 Mesa Road, on five acres (two buildable) where there is now one house (because of the added density on the property). City Planning staff has critiqued the project plans and is waiting for a response from the developer.
10. Bear Creek Nature Center - As discussed in a story on Page 1 this issue, the El Paso County-owned Nature Center has had to cut back operations because of greatly reduced county funding. Starting in January, it will be open for four days instead of five and 22 hours instead of 35 each week. Volunteers are seeking additional ways to help out.
11. Red Rock Canyon Open Space pavilion - A fundraising campaign by the Friends of Red Rock Canyon was coming to fruition in late 2008, as construction neared completion on an open-air shelter. The Friends group gathered $100,000 (half of which was a challenge grant from a Friends member), with the remainder of the $359,000 cost covered by Trails, Open Space and Parks (TOPS) funds. The work has involved tearing down two old buildings (a house and nearby garage/ bomb shelter built by the Bock family that formerly owned the property), then erecting the pavilion on part of the house's former footprint with the help of wood beams and sandstone salvaged from the garage. The Friends group had sought to preserve the bomb shelter, but City Council decided it wasn't worth the expense.
12. Historic overlay design guidelines - Working with contracted architect Steve Obering and a subcommittee of the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN), City Planning is moving forward with design guidelines that can be used for remodeling or building new structures in a proposed historic overlay zone for much of the older Westside. After incorporating subcommittee edits in December, the guidelines will go to the State Historical Fund for review in January, with presentation to the public in March. Obering was hired in September; a previously hired guideline architect had resigned earlier in the year when the city and state rejected his work.
13. Cimarron bridge - More than two years without four-lane traffic ended in September when the new Cimarron bridge fully opened above Conejos Street and the railroad tracks. In August 2006, a huge pothole had appeared in the old bridge and traffic was cut to two lanes until it was demolished in November '07. To allow unimpeded work, the route was shut off entirely through the winter, before a partial opening of the new span allowed two lanes of traffic in May. Eventually, the previous structure was demolished. Lawrence started work Nov. 1. The $8.57 million project was funded through the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) one-cent sales tax. During the project, downtown-Westside traffic was detoured along Colorado Avenue.
14. Holland Park - A half-year project involving Springs Utilities, Stormwater Enterprise and three city departments resulted in improvements through the Douglas Creek Open Space, including an updated wastewater line (Utilities), creek debris removal (Stormwater Enterprise), improved trail surface (Parks) as well as a traffic-calming island and bump-outs where the trail crosses Holland Park Boulevard (Planning and Traffic Engineering). “It's safer and people like crossing there,” said Cynthia McGrath of the Holland Park Community Association. The association also sponsored a support concert for nearby Jackson Park in September that drew close to 100 people.
15. Simpich Showcase - When Jan and Bob Simpich closed their Character Dolls business in Old Colorado City in early 2006, it appeared that the area's 54-year Simpich saga had come to an end. But in 2008, their son, David Simpich, and his wife Debby embarked on a new phase - the Simpich Showcase, in the same building where the dolls had been made. Slated to open in 2009, the business will consist of an art gallery (including works by Jan and Bob), a Simpich dolls museum/consignment area and a theater for David's marionette shows.
16. Principals - Both Midland and Buena Vista elementaries have new principals this school year. Hired on a one-year interim basis, Robyn Colbert replaced Barbara Bishop, who had led Midland to International Baccalaureate (IB) accreditation during her eight-year tenure. The Board of Education removed Bishop for reasons that were never revealed; however, complaints from some parents had surfaced, and enrollment had dropped in the past year. At Buena Vista, which has been transitioning to all-Montessori over the past five years, David Brilliant replaced Jade Amick, who had resigned for health reasons. Neither Colbert nor Brilliant has had extensive training in the “magnet” formats of their respective schools, but Colbert had been studying it as part of setting up IB in the Falcon school district and Brilliant has a broad range of experience as a career District 11 teacher and administrator.
17. Homeless issues - In “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” the 1928 hobo wish-list song (where “… you never change your socks/ and the little streams of alcohol come trickling down the rocks”), there is no mention of camping anywhere you please, but Colorado Springs city officials may have added another verse to the tune when they suspended the city's monthly cleanups of homeless camps in public parks and along streams (such as Fountain Creek through the Westside). Mayor Lionel Rivera announced the action in October after the city was threatened by a lawsuit from a veterans' rights group, which asserted that homeless veterans' possessions were being disrespected during the cleanups. Separately, City Council member Jerry Heimlicher started a campaign encouraging people to donate to homeless-rehabilitation efforts rather than the homeless themselves.
18. Old Colorado City commerce - The Old Colorado City Associates (OCCA) merchants group once again had a good turnout for the three-day Territory Days street festival (the major income event for the group each year), and used a portion of those proceeds to contract with an agency (after a marketing director hired late in 2007 had resigned) to strengthen the historic shopping district's mercantile appeal. Extensive advertising was credited with attracting about 3,500 people to the “Safe Treats” Halloween trick-or-treat event in Old Colorado City.
19. Old Colorado City pedestrian light - After repeated entreaties to city officials by merchants and property owners over the years, a new kind of pedestrian crossing light was installed at 24th Street and Colorado Avenue. The concern has been that so many people cross the avenue there - because of shopping or activities in Bancroft Park - but have had no protection from often-speeding cars. The new light has a button, that flashes for 45 seconds when it's pushed; also, street markings and signs advise motorists about the crossing.
20. Smaller developments/ upgrades - Hilltop at the Pinery, a planned wedding event center on the former restaurant site on Bijou Hill, was approved by City Planning, with the needed redevelopment work expected to start in the coming weeks. Construction continues on the Ore Mill Storage complex (four buildings totaling 25,000 square feet) off Ore Mill Road. The first 4,00-square-foot building (a bank) was built in the Grandview Commons office/commercial center (approved for 54,000 square feet) just north of the Centennial Boulevard King Soopers. The new 15,000-square-foot headquarters for the Pikes Peak Council of the Boy Scouts of America opened at 985 W. Fillmore St. A quarter-mile of Centennial (not yet opened) south of Fillmore was built to front on the Colorado Springs Health Partners medical complex (not yet built).
Honorable mentions - A lagging economy hurt house sales in the Gold Hill Mesa development (off Lower Gold Camp Road and 21st Street), but more than 50 homes have residents now. The project got bad publicity when a big wind blew dust clouds off the 200-acre property last February, but better coverage is anticipated for a Fountain Creek restoration project it is spearheading along the north part of the property in '09... After raising public curiosity by sitting on blocks for several weeks, an old house was relocated from 21st Street and Colorado Avenue to Calvert Street in the Midland area in June… Six-year-old Lily Griesan was badly injured when a speeding car hit her on her bicycle in April, but the plucky Howbert Elementary first-grader continues recovery efforts… The Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site treated visitors to a restored turn-of-the-19th-century sprinkler wagon for the 2008 summer season. Also, a restoration project was completed on the Orchard House (built by Colorado Springs founder William Palmer), allowing tours to take in all three floors now… Julianne Rist, who had led the Old Colorado City Library's major preservation/remodeling project, became full-time Fountain branch manager, and Jocelyne Bodden replaced her in July… Two bicyclists were
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