Vagrancy snuffs 'backyard' park that neighborhood sought in 1990Aug. 30, 2018
Around 1990, responding to years of requests from West Junior High parents and nearby residents, School District 11 and Colorado Springs Parks teamed up to build what was then called the Backyard Project.
It was a roughly one-acre, then-undeveloped strip at the upper end of the West property, stretching from 19th to 20th Street, south of Bijou Street and above
The parents and residents pushed for it because they believed it would be a great place for a small park that could be used by the students as well as the neighborhood.
Costing about $200,000 in all, the finished product sported two pavilions, a playground, a fitness course, concrete and landscaping.
And sure enough, it got plenty of use in the years that followed. Steve Beach, who's lived about half a block away for 30 years, recalls seeing people gather in the “backyard” for parties, wedding receptions, games or family outings.
But things started changing in recent years. A new element of street people began appearing. They were on foot, unconnected to the neighborhood, and 19th Street became a “kind of corridor” for them, Beach said. “It was depressing, just a stone's throw from your house, to see a heap of clothes and a shopping cart, and oh, there's a person under there.”
The neighbors wouldn't have minded if the pedestrian travelers just “stopped there to get shade for a few minutes,” Beach said, but it became increasingly evident that the new uses included overnight camping and drug use, sometimes leaving behind human waste and hypodermic needles.
With the property formally owned by District 11, West Middle School Principal Shalah Sims said she became concerned from the time she started work there in 2015. Checking the backyard for vagrants became a regular staff routine. “We'd find people sleeping up there when the students were starting to arrive,” she reported. On other occasions, “we found drug paraphernalia up there and bullet casings.”
She summarized that the backyard area “was creating safety issues for students, because it would attract people who didn't belong on campus during the school day.”
Finally, during the 2017-18 school year, District 11 decided that the matter had become “urgent,” Sims said, and crews came in and tore out the structures.
All that remains is the landscaping and concrete.
There are no immediate plans for replacements. In about five years, the school district's tentative schedule calls for the West building (which also includes West Elementary) to be given a major renovation.
Anticipating considerable community outreach at that time, Sims said it's logical to expect that the backyard area “would be part of that conversation.”
Watching the structure removals, Beach expressed mixed emotion. Because they would no longer be misused, “I was glad to see them them go,” he said. “But at the same time, it's pitiful that it happened.”
Editor's note: The Backyard Project history provided in this article results from the writer (Kenyon Jordan) having covered the development of the park while working for the former Pikes Peak Journal newspaper between 1985 and 1990.
Westside Pioneer article