‘Optimistic’ LLC agrees with city to keep operating Westside Community Center at least through 2015
Three years ago at this time, the Westside Community Center was on the verge of closing. Today, the center remains open and the outlook appears bright after the city and a limited liability corporation (LLC) of Woodmen Valley Chapel this week renewed their agreement through the end of 2015.
“We're very optimistic about the future,” said Dick Siever, the center's director. “We're hoping to fill the void we think is there, including more programs for middle school and high school kids from the Westside. That's an area we need to continue to focus on and to improve. The goal will always be to provide programs that are affordable to the Westside neighborhood.”
The center operates out of three buildings on a 2.8-acre property at Bijou and 17th streets that used to be Buena Vista Elementary School. In Novem-ber 2009, looking ahead to a tight 2010 budget year, the city was facing the gloomy prospect of closing all its community centers because it could no longer afford to run them. At the Westside Community Center alone, the city general fund was subsidizing over 80 percent of the cost (more than $300,000 a year).
Sean Paige, then representing the older Westside's District 3, convinced other City Councilmembers to keep the centers open for the first quarter of 2010 to allow time for fundraising as well as the preparation of a city request for proposals in case any private entities might want to take over one or more of the centers at no cost to the city.
The only such request, as it turned out, came from the Center for Strategic Ministry, a nonprofit arm of the Woodmen Valley Chapel that focuses on community outreach and stabilizing families. The group took over in April 2010. Its initial agreement with the city lasts through the end of this year.
That agreement, like the new one, guarantees no city funds to the center, although the city was able to allocate $75,000 in 2011.
An early sign of frugality under the LLC was that its first-year budget for the center was less than half of the $400,000 the city had spent the year before. Volunteers became a regular part of the scenery, cleaning, organizing, planning, fundraising and setting up activities. People from the church were a big part of the effort, but Siever said that Westsiders have also pitched in. He pointed out “a man from the neighborhood who walked two blocks here and mowed our yard all summer.”
Other reasons for the LLC's success have been “increased participation in programs” along with “generous funding from several foundations and trusts,” Siever said.
The center offers a range of classes, events, activities and programs, with many discounted or free. Some offerings carried over from when the city ran the center, such as the Billie Spielman Center, the Golden Circle Meals program, senior trips and various classes. The LLC has added health and dental care opportunities for low-income children, a nurse's center, bicycle repair clinics, table tennis, a fitness center, sound upgrades to the gym (often rented now as a hall), after-school programs for Westside elementaries, summer activity programs for youth, hundreds of free hot meals from its mobile kitchen, the relocation of the Westside CARES pantry and the designation of the site as a polling place in November for the first time since 2006.
Major projects with sizable volunteer involvement have included building the raised beds for the center's community garden, relocating the Westside CARES pantry/food distribution program and creating off-street parking in part of the old school playground.
“We're thrilled to continue our partnership with the Westside Community Center LLC to provide programs and services at the Westside Community Center,” said Karen Palus, Director of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services, in a prepared statement. “Thousands of our citizens are benefitting from the wide range of opportunities provided by our partner organization. Having this kind of positive impact in the community is what our department strives for with each and every facility and program.”
The city had taken over the property as part of School District 11's complicated “consolidation” of 2009, when it closed three Westside schools, created West Elementary (taking over space the community center had used in West Middle School) and moved Buena Vista into one of the closed schools (Washington).
“The City of Colorado Springs has been a wonderful partner,” Siever said in a prepared statement. “We especially appreciate the leadership and support provided by our City liaison Kim King, Parks Administration, Recreation and Cultural Services Manager. We are enjoying becoming a part of the Westside neighborhood!”
Westside Pioneer/press release