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City Parks: No Bancroft bandshell this summer
Council to probe speedier fix to damage from suspicious fire

       The prospect of Bancroft Park's bandshell being available for summer events remained uncertain in the weeks following a “purposely set” fire Jan. 27 that visibly charred the stage walls, studs and ceiling, causing an estimated $34,000 in damage.

A City Parks crew walls off the Bancroft Park bandshell stage Feb. 24.
Westside Pioneer photo

       Shortly after the blaze, City Parks Director Karen Palus said that, while a repair plan would eventually come together, event promoters were being told to plan for the park not having a bandshell this summer.
       But City Council is interested in speedier alternatives. The group has agreed to at least discuss, at its March 13 work session, ways to expedite a bandshell fix in time for summer. No specific options have been stated.
       The fire burned in the bandshell stage area between about 3:15 and 5 a.m. Jan. 27. An initial fire report stated that the structure, which was built in 1935 featuring locally quarried Manitou greenstone, was “fully engulfed in flames” when fire trucks arrived. About 30 firefighters participated, keeping the blaze from bursting through the roof.
       Colorado Springs Fire Investigator Jacob Pullfer determined that the point of origin was the northwest corner of the stage, and the fire was “purposely set to cause damage.”
       The accelerants consisted of “a lot of trash and paper sorts of things,” he said. “It looks like stuff that somebody pulled out of the trash.”

The damage is evident in the stage's northwest corner after the Jan. 27 fire.
Westside Pioneer photo

       Pullfer set the damage at $34,000. City Parks Operation and Maintenance Manager Kurt Schroeder said Parks would have to pay a $25,000 deductible before its insurance would pay for any of the repairs.
       For about a month after the fire, City Parks and police officials taped off the open area in front of the bandshell, leaving the stage open but nailing up plywood to fill in burned-out gaps in back of the stage.
       About a month later, Parks brought in a structural engineer and insurance adjustor to assess the damage, after which a department work crew boarded up the front of the bandshell. Schroeder said he expected to get a report between late March and mid-April.
       Based on some citizen complaints about the situation, City Council held brief discussions at two meetings in late February, which led to the bandshell being added to the March 13 work session agenda. The council advocacy was led by Keith King and Don Knight, who said they believed the bandshell repairs should be made a priority.
       “I think it's very important,” added Council President Merv Bennett (an at-large representative). “That park's a critical component of the activities that happen in the summer season in Old Colorado City.”
       King, whose council term ends in April, represents District 3, which includes Old Colorado City. Knight, who is running for re-election after serving four years, represents District 1, which is just north of D-3.
       Parks Director Palus has listed several issues that could slow the repair process. These include the need for damage assessments, developing a design, consulting with the State Historic Office, obtaining funding and freeing up staff to work on the matter, she said. Initially, asbestos in the stage materials was another concern, but Parks has since found there is none.

Austin Young's band performs in the Bancroft Park Bandshell in 2013 during the once-annual Paint the Town Blue summer series. With the bandshell boarded up after the January fire and City Parks telling event promoters to make "other arrangements," the Pikes Peak Blues Community is lining up another venue for 2017 (see article, Page 1).
Westside Pioneer photo

       A related issue since the fire has been Old Colorado City business leaders feeling left out of Parks' process on the Bancroft issue.
       According to Julie Fabrizio, president of both the Old Colorado City Associates (OCCA) business group and its charitable nonprofit, the Old Colorado City Foundation (OCCF), she sent Palus an e-mail Feb. 21 asking for bandshell information and offering to help in getting it fixed.
       Fabrizio was still waiting for a reply three days later, when she was disappointed to learn from the Westside Pioneer about the front of the stage having been boarded up. “They [City Parks] don't get how personal the park is to all of us,” she commented.
       Over the past four years, the OCCF has raised roughly $30,000 for Bancroft Park improvements. The foundation's chief goal is to put an addition for modern restrooms on the back of the bandshell structure.
       “I am aware that insurance adjusters and historic folks need to be involved with this,” states Fabrizio's Feb. 21 e-mail to Palus. “However, both (OCCA and OCCF) boards would really like to be able to get the bandshell functioning by Memorial Day weekend [for Territory Days]. Is there some assistance we can offer? The park is such an important part of this Old Colorado City area and I have had many people come to me and ask how they can help get this fixed.”
       A suggestion from multiple people, including Territory Days organizer Jim Wear, is that Parks consider temporary repairs, which would allow summer events to use the bandshell, during which time Parks could plan a permanent restoration. Otherwise, Wear has estimated it would cost him $2,000 a day to bring in a temporary stage - not to mention losing valuable space on the concrete area in front of the stage.
       Lauren Ripko, organizer of this year's Taste of OCC, scheduled April 30, said she is already making alternative stage plans for the event's live music. In its fifth year, “Taste” is the main OCCF event to raise money for Bancroft.
       It is not known yet how much fire-restoration work will be required. The official Parks position is to wait until the structural engineer and insurance adjustor report back.
       However, Parks officials have already been telling people otherwise. When Ripko asked about a temporary fix for “Taste,” Michelle Bies of Parks' Special Events Office e-mailed back that the “structure isn't secure enough to be used at all.”
       Asked in a Pioneer e-mail where her “isn't secure” information came from, Bies did not reply.
       Schroeder then was asked about Bies' statement. Initially, he said only that what she commented was “based on the fact that the building was compromised by a fire.”
       However, this was in contrast to what Fire Investigator Pullfer had told the Pioneer about his post-fire report to Parks - that although the roof beams were “charred,” it was not evident that the building was “compromised” as a result. He emphasized that fire officials do not see themselves as structural engineers, but noted that if he had believed the building was in danger of collapsing, he would have said so.
       Schroeder later e-mailed back to the Pioneer, elaborating that boarding up the bandshell was his own decision. “I came to that conclusion because I am going to err on the side of caution,” he wrote. “Any charred rafter beams would give me pause, much less ones that are almost 100 years old.” [Editor's note: Actually, the structure was built in 1935.]
       Schroeder continued, “I would also venture to say that while the fire investigator made an accurate observation, he is not an engineer nor did he get up into the ceiling area to assess the damage. Right now as I understand it, half if not more of the roof will have to be replaced. This will not be easy or cheap especially since the roof structure is built with rafters and not trusses.”
       He was then asked for the source of his “half if not more of the roof” statement. Schroeder replied that his source was the structural engineer, speaking informally on the day he went to the bandshell in late February and looked at the damage.
       Schroeder did not completely discount the possibility of a temporary fix. “We believe it is only prudent to understand the full extent of the damages before we make any decision on how to proceed - whether it is an interim repair… or a complete repair, whatever that may mean,” he wrote. “To make a decision to do something without that professional input would be irresponsible.”

Westside Pioneer article