Westside Stories of the Year: Wrestlers pin top spot

       It was a tough call initially, between the Westside Community Center and the USA Pro Cycling Challenge Prologue, for the top Westside Story of the Year.

Stories of the Year images... Bearing the 5A state trophy, Carter McElhany and the Coronado High wrestling team ran a victory lap at a school celebration assembly Feb. 22.
Westside Pioneer photo

       The strongly volunteer center has been a steady force throughout 2011, continuing popular programs and classes from 2010 and adding others, as well as offering special community-oriented activities, events and services.
       Meanwhile, it was hard to overlook the huge one-day impact of the Aug. 22 Prologue, which featured many of the top international cyclists, including the most recent Tour de France winner, and thousands of racing fans.
       But in the end a decision had to be made. It's called “Stories of the Year,” right? So number one should belong to the story that would really stand out in people's minds. That being the case, the Westside Pioneer's honorary distinction this year goes to… the Coronado High School wrestling team for its extraordinary state championship last February.
      

While school board members Charles Bobbitt and Sandra Mann look on appreciatively, Coronado wrestling coach Matt Brickell speaks to a school assembly after his team won state.
Westside Pioneer photo

       1. Coronado wrestling title - In 2010, the Cougar grapplers, starring several talented juniors, nearly won the school's first-ever state championship in that sport. They took second despite representing one of the smallest schools in the state's unlimited-enrollment classification (5A). In fact, Coronado's size - now less than 1,500 enrollment - allowed it to drop from 5A in all its sports the very next school year. Except for wrestling. At the request of those juniors-to-become-seniors, coach Matt Brickell got state officials to let his boys stay in 5A one more year. The Cougar grapplers didn't let their coach down. Paced by three individual champions (Nathan Burak, Carter McElhany and Adrian Cordova) and nine medalists in all, they took the crown by 16 points over second-place Pomona Feb. 19. Along the way, they fought back from illness and a loss to Pomona in an earlier-season tournament. It was just the fifth state team title in Coronado's 41-year history. Brickell, who retired after the 2010-11 school year, said he was sure his team could have won 4A. So how did it feel to take 5A? “It hasn't sunk in yet,” Brickell said shortly afterward, then added the understatement: “It's kind of neat.”
      

Stories of the Year images... Deb Mitguard (left) and Grace True displayed fresh vegetables going to needy families last summer from the Westside Cares plot in the Westside Community Center's first-year garden.
Westside Pioneer photo

       2. Westside Community Center - Last year, our #1 story was the Woodmen Valley Chapel taking over the center when the city was on the verge of shutting it down for lack of funds. Operations have stayed strong in 2011. Along with continuing classes and activities for different ages (including an after-school elementary program), center staff started a community garden (with Pikes Peak Urban Gardens); established a free nursing center (with Penrose-St. Francis Mission Outreach), gaming room and fitness room; and revamped the gymnasium into an electronically updated multipurpose room that's seen increasing use for large gatherings. Health has been a recurring theme. The nurse center helps people with referrals and understanding the medical bureaucracy. Last summer, center staff worked out an agreement with School District 11 to be a free-breakfast/lunch site. And, a private grant brought the Peak Vista mobile van on site for several weeks to providefree dental/medical care to lower-income children. The Community Center is run by a small paid staff, with regular volunteer help from Woodmen Valley Chapel's ACTS (A Call to Serve) program, according to Center Director Dick Siever.
      
       3. Prologue - In the first year of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, Colorado Springs hosted the first stage. Because a major multi-day professional race had not been run in Colorado in 23 years, organizers could not predict how it would be received. They got their answer Aug. 22, when an estimated 100,000 people showed up along the 5.2-mile course between the Garden of the Gods and the downtown finish line. The course through the Westside also included Ridge Road, Pikes Peak Avenue, 30th Street and Colorado Avenue. During the roughly three-hour event, 130 hard-pedaling riders navigated the route, one at a time, a minute or two apart. “I think they [the race organizers] saw the enthusiasm and love of cycling here,” a race spokesperson said afterward. The Prologue's downside was that the closed-off streets basically paralyzed Westside traffic and businesses near the avenue for about five hours. The 2012 race course was recently announced - Colorado Springs will have Stage 5 (of seven) Aug. 24, a roughly 120-mile ride starting in Breckenridge, coming down Ute Pass and again using the avenue en route to a downtown finish.
      

Stories of the Year images... Many Prologue attendees rode their own bicyles to the event Aug. 22 - and just laid them down.
Westside Pioneer photo

       4. Goodwill move - Goodwill Industries of Colorado Springs, which opened in the 2300 block of West Colorado Avenue 50 years ago and has expanded ever since, plans to relocate in 2012 to a vacant office/ warehouse complex it bought on 7.75 acres at 1460 W. Garden of the Gods Road. Goodwill officials hosted a public meeting in October, to see what people might like to see on their old properties. The answers mainly reflected what people like about the Westside now, including locally owned stores, big trees, historic architecture, walkability, neighborliness and a sense of safety. The Goodwill parcels are in the 2300 block (about 141,000 square feet in all), taking up most of both sides of Colorado Avenue as well as the north side of Cucharras Street, plus about a fourth of the south side of Pikes Peak Avenue. According to Goodwill officials, the decision to move was based on a desire to consolidate its offices. Currently it's leasing space at different locations around town. The Old Colorado City facilities, which are up for sale, include a processing center and product warehouse for donated items, a worker training facility and the nonprofit's main administrative offices. The sale offering includes the property with Goodwill's recently remodeled retail store; however, Goodwill officials have said they want to keep the store in the 2300 block.
      

Stories of the Year images... The recently remodeled Goodwill retail store (right) is slated to remain after the rest of Goodwill's operations in the 2300 block of West Colorado Avenue have relocated. Photo was shot in October.
Westside Pioneer photo

       5. Gold Hill Mesa - It took most of the year - including time spent hashing out two contentious issues with neighbors, but the owners of the 210-acre property off Lower Gold Camp Road and 21st Street eventually gained city approval of their updated plans for one of the city's most active developments (more than 35 sales in 2011). The coming year is expected to see Gold Hill building a new, permanent 21st Street access that both Mesas can use. The requests to the city involved no major alterations to the project scope, but revised some previous zoning and the placement of future commercial and multifamily homes. The complaints arose from Villa de Mesa, regarding a perimeter wall that Gold Hill Mesa had pledged to build five years ago but only finished about half of it; and from Gold Hill residents themselves, who had not been informed about the developers' multifamily change plans. But by year's end, Gold Hill had set a date for the Villa de Mesa wall construction (part of it in 2012) and mollified residents by holding two meetings on the new plans and promising to keep them informed in the future. In other 2011 activity, Gold Hill Mesa widened part of its side of South 21st Street, in preparation for a future project that will turn 21st into four lanes between Lower Gold Camp and Broadway Street; featured a new G.J. Gardner “near-net zero” house at the August Parade of Homes; and grew to about 120 occupied residences (it's zoned for roughly 1,000).
      
       6. Midland Trail - In 2004, City Parks built the Midland Trail between America the Beautiful Park and 21st Street. The city had hoped to extend it westward as early as 2005, but easement issues, higher costs and federal and state reviews kept any new work from starting until late 2010, City Parks officials have explained. Most of the work to extend the 12-foot-wide concrete trail between 21st and the Manitou Springs Creekwalk Trail occurred this year. The work included the installation of five pedestrian bridges, four of them in Vermijo Park. Still unbuilt are trail segments from 21st to 25th streets and Ridge Road to Columbia Road. These gaps are based on uncertainties about future road projects in those areas. In the meantime, between 21st and 25th, people are asked to use the sidewalks. On Colorado Avenue between Ridge and Columbia, there are no sidewalks, but a parks official said there is walking room on the north side of the avenue. The money issues for the trail were finalized about two years earlier with a $590,000 Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) grant to go with a previously awarded $600,000 federal grant, $25,500 from Manitou Springs' open-space funds and $1.1 million from Colorado Springs' Trails, Open Space and Parks (TOPS) fund.
      
       7. City government - In the elections last spring - the first since Colorado Springs voters had approved a new “strong mayor” city charter - Steve Bach became mayor, and Cheyenne-area resident Lisa Czelatdko won the District 3 City Council seat that includes the southerly, older Westside. Until the recent finalization of the 2012 budget, the Westside was mostly unaffected directly by the charter change, which gives the mayor certain powers (including budget preparation) that council used to have (except for the sharrows issue - see #8 below). In a somewhat prickly scenario that unfolded this month, council and the mayor were briefly at odds over potential first-time city funding of the Old Colorado City Historical Society (see story, Page 5). Earlier in the year, the new council elected Scott Hente, whose District 1 takes in the northerly Westside, to the new position of president of council, which has certain powers other City Councilmembers don't have (including becoming acting mayor if the mayor is sidelined for a significant time). Jan Martin, a Westside resident, was elected to a second term to council at-large with the most votes of any candidate; later, her colleagues made her mayor pro-tem.
      
       8. Sharrows - The new “strong mayor” form of city government played a part in a series of events in which it appeared for a time that city transportation staffers would stamp sharrow markings on both West Colorado Avenue and 30th Street through the Garden of the Gods. The markings, meant to show where bicycles can ride on streets, were questioned by the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN) out of concern that it is dangerous to encourage cyclists to ride on busy streets when trails or secondary streets can be used. The issue initially came to the forefront when Tim Leigh (who would be elected to City Council in April) began a fundraising campaign to match city funds for sharrow-stamping on the avenue. Later, as part of council, Leigh joined a majority in authorizing city staff to stamp sharrows wherever they thought they were needed, and staff announced West Colorado as part of that. However, that decision was overruled by Steve Cox, Mayor Steve Bach's then-chief of staff. Concerned about a lack of “stakeholder buy-in,” he issued a statement stipulating that for now sharrows would go no farther west on the avenue than the bridge next to America the Beautiful Park.
      
       9. Fillmore corridor - The Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) is closing in on final design for its Fillmore Corridor project. A public meeting is scheduled Tuesday, Jan. 10 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the El Paso County Citizen's Service Center, 1675 W. Garden of the Gods Road. Estimated at just under $7.1 million and funded as one of the “A” list RTA projects from the 2004 election, the work is intended to improve traffic flow at the interchange by removing Chestnut Street from the “six-leg” stoplight it now shares with Fillmore Street and the interstate's southbound on/off ramps. From points north and south of Fillmore, Chestnut will be realigned to curve west, crossing Fillmore (with a stoplight) at what is now the Parker Street intersection. Parker itself will become a cul de sac just south of the new Chestnut. Earlier plans for the corridor work had called for making the four-lane Fillmore into six lanes between the interstate and Centennial Boulevard. But engineers decided the big choke-point was Chestnut's stoplight at the interchange. RTA officials are estimating that the project should be ready to go out to bids by fall 2012. Work is expected to take nine months to a year.
      
       10. Space Foundation move - After nine years in a 12,000-square-foot building on South 14th Street, the Space Foundation relocated in July to an office/warehouse facility over three times that size off Garden of the Gods Road, at 4425 Arrowswest Drive. The international, nonprofit space-advocacy organization, which has about 50 employees, had outgrown its former quarters, according to a spokesperson. The new locale also offers the possibility of establishing a year-round museum offering space information and artifacts, plus a more permanent display of the Space Technology Hall of Fame. The Foundation's efforts are showcased annually by the Space Symposium at the Broadmoor. The move was aided by private area funds and foundations that were concerned about the 28-year-old Space Foundation being lured to another city. Shortly after the move, the Foundation sold the 14th Street building to Rocky Mountain Health Care Services (RMHCS), which was already operating on the Westside. RMCHS will use the facility mainly for administrative offices, a spokesperson said.
      
       11. Open space - A year ago, the city's buying Section 16 as open space in the hills above the Westside ranked #6 in the Pioneer's Stories of the Year. In 2011, City Parks followed up on the purchase by hiring a consultant and embarking on a public process to develop a master plan for it. The plan would integrate Section 16 with two neighboring open spaces - White Acres (bought in 2009) and Red Rock Canyon (2003). However, after two meetings, the city put the process on hold, citing concerns regarding some park users and volunteers who appear to be losing “trust” in the Parks Department. To address that, a new process to try to restore it was announced. Public meetings (using an as-yet-unhired consultant) are tentatively slated to start in February and last about half a year. Initially, those meetings were going to start in January, but that was before the resignation of Sarah Bryarly, City Parks' interim Trails, Open Space and Parks (TOPS) manager, who had been organizing both the Red Rock Canyon and trust-restoration public processes.
      
       12. VA clinic - A new Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) outpatient clinic with more than double the currently available space in Colorado Springs will be built on 18 vacant acres beside the currently closed-off extension of Centennial Boulevard south of Fillmore Street. The planned opening date, as announced by the VA last spring, was fall 2014. This has since been changed to late 2013, according to updated information this week from Jordan Schupbach, public affairs officer for the VA's Eastern Colorado Division. No groundbreaking date has been announced yet for the 80,000-square-foot facility, although Schupbach said a contractor will be hired in “early 2012.” With the greater space, the clinic can offer more services than are now available at the two current Springs outpatient VA clinics, at 25 N. Spruce St. and 320 E. Fontanero St. (Suite 200). New will be a pharmacy and a dental component, as well as expanded radiology, labwork and mental health care capabilities. The location is part of the 45-acre site that Colorado Springs Health Partners (CSHP) bought, graded, built a road on and, for several years, planned to use for a medical campus. But CSHP could not come up with a viable plan and has since moved to a building at Union and Fillmore.
      

Stories of the Year images... North Carolina's Town Mountain, performing here on the Pergola stage, was one of two past winners of the Lyons Rockygrass competition that played at this year's Fiddles, Vittles & Vino at Rock Ledge Ranch.
Westside Pioneer photo

       13. Rock Ledge Ranch - In 2011, for the second year under major budget cuts, the city-owned historic site off North 30th Street managed to meet expenses through donations and on-site involvement by the ranch's volunteer Living History Association (LHA). The success was aided by the first-ever sellout in the seventh year of the Fiddles, Vittles & Vino event in August and a big increase in participation and attendance at the second annual Rock Ledge Powwow in September. The city continued to provide some salary assistance in the 2012 budget ($88,000, which is the same as the year before) and even found $21,000 additionally, which will go to the LHA once it's managed to raise $50,000. The latter sum was proposed by City Council as a change to the 2012 budget, and Mayor Steve Bach did not veto it. The 1880s-style working ranch also hosted its first cyclocross race in 2011, and talks are continuing with Buena Vista Elementary about establishing some type of educational partnership in keeping with its Montessori format.
      
       14. Centennial extension - The planned four-lane boulevard between Fillmore Street and the Fontanero/I-25 interchange was not extended any farther in 2011, but a partially built quarter-mile segment just west of the Indian Hills subdivision did get paved. In addition, the MVS land owners, who plan to develop houses on a 48-acre parcel nearby, say they expect to start excavation in that area in early 2012. Work will be in two areas: restoring a landfill on the MVS property, as required by the state before any homebuilding can begin; and (as part of MVS' agreement with the city) completing the 550-foot Centennial gap between Indian Hills and a previously completed segment starting at Fillmore. The Centennial Boulevard paving this year was accomplished on the segment between Van Buren Street and a short ways north of Mesa Valley Road. That segment had been the responsibility of the original Indian Hills subdivision developer, but he went bankrupt a few years ago with the segment - as well as the subdivision - incomplete. Most of the segment south of Van Buren will be government responsibility, and appears likely to become part of a priority list for a new Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) ballot issue in the fall. For the paving this year, the city used a bond the developer had posted with the city, although the money was not quite enough to fund a full overlay on both sides of the road or to install sidewalks.
      
       15. Homecoming Parade - In what proved to be Coronado High School's 31st - not 41st, as thought - annual jaunt through Old Colorado City, an innovative fundraiser was introduced. Following an idea from Principal David Engstrom, parent volunteers and staff pitched in for the first Pancake Breakfast before, during and after the parade. With the labor, food, coffee and cooking units donated, supporters were able to raise $1,252 - more than a third of the present cost of putting on the parade. The event from 29th Street to Bancroft Park was its usual brassy and colorful self, with about 30 entries, including school clubs and sports groups, feeder schools and Homecoming king and queen candidates in/on Corvette convertibles. As for the change from 41st to 31st annual, it turned out that some school history had been forgotten, with students and staff assuming the parade dated back to the school's first full year, when actually the Senior Cabinet of 1981 had thought up the idea and started the tradition.
      
       16. BV 100th - It was definitely a 100-year anniversary. That status could have been assigned to Buena Vista Elementary, which started in 1911 and is still going strong, or to the building where that start took place. In any case, about 200 people - many of them alumni from years ago - dropped by the original facility to celebrate the centennial Oct. 1. The location in the 1600 block of West Bijou Street had been Buena Vista from 1911 to 2009. Now it is the Westside Community Center. BV has relocated to the former Washington building at 924 W. Pikes Peak Ave. The centennial ceremony featured a prestigious guest: Joe Garcia, the lieutenant governor of Colorado. By an interesting coincidence, in the 1990s four of his children attended the school and he was its PTO president.
      
       17. Westside schools - In other school news of note, new elementary-school principals started at Howbert (Deb Hawes) and Jackson (Sara Miller); the Academy for Advanced & Creative Learning, a charter school in its second year, gained use of the last quarter of its building (the District 11 records department having relocated after the 2010-11 school year); Scott Von Thun, Coronado's Class of 2011 valedictorian, achieved the highest all-time grade-point average in school history; the Coronado girls volleyball team took second at state; and Buena Vista Elementary received an OK from D-11 to start offering sixth grade.
      
       18. Express Inn - The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) is still in the running for the purchase of the Express Inn property. Dave Watt of CDOT said this week that the five-acre parcel with a shut-down hotel remains in foreclosure, and the state is nearly finished with determining its fair market value, which would then become its offer. CDOT will eventually need the property for an interchange at Eighth Street and Highway 24. No construction date is scheduled, but the state is making a purchase effort now in hopes of obtaining the land at a lower cost than if a thriving business were there. The hotel, which had been a first-step residence for many homeless people, was closed in May after the group buying it defaulted on bank payments and serious structural and health problems were found.
      
       19. No Man's Land - Business owners along Colorado Avenue west of 31st Street have been looking for solutions to continuing problems with loitering, thefts, drug dealing, prostitution and other criminal activity in that area. Hotel owner Mike Crepeau believes that most of the problem individuals are living in cheap motels up the avenue. That area, including the east part of Manitou Springs, had been declared blighted by a study about five years ago, allowing Manitou to establish an urban renewal authority with the power to give tax credits for redevelopment, but so far no applicants have come forward. Some help may be on the way: El Paso County, Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs have been awarded a state planning grant, effective in the first part of 2012, to look at infrastructure and other needs in that area.
      

Stories of the Year images... A view south from Lower Gold Camp Road at the Dog Park on a snowy day this week reveals some of the current construction.
Westside Pioneer photo

       20. Dog Park - Following through on a master plan worked out with volunteers three years ago, El Paso County Parks is managing a $280,000 contract to upgrade the Dog Park at 21st and Rio Grande streets. The first part of the project was to pave the formerly gravel lot. Work going on this winter will involve construction of a year-round restroom with runnning water, a dog drinking fountain and dog wash, holding areas (“kennels”) for dogs when their owners are in the restroom, added perimeter fencing, drainage improvements, improvements to Bear Creek (along the south edge of the park) and utility connections. The project stemmed from a master plan that was worked out by the county three years ago in conjunction with citizens in general and especially the Lovers Of Off-Leash Parks, the volunteer group that had formed in early 2004 to help the county take care of the Dog Park. Funding comes from a $198,000 Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) grant, matched by up to $90,000 from developer park fees.
      
       Honorable mention: The first-time Great Parks Festival, organized by the Trails and Open Space Coalition, attracted an estimated 1,100 people Sept. 24 to Bear Creek Regional Park for free activities including music, demonstrations, sports clinics, nature walks and gardening presentations… Silver Key hired a new CEO, Patricia Ellis. She was chosen after a five-month search following the sudden resignation by four-year CEO David Shaffer in February… The Range Riders went up West Colorado Avenue to 31st Street and over to Red Rock Canyon Open Space in a first-time route for the venerable tradition… After two years at Coronado High School, the Boy Scouts' third annual Merit Badge University used Holmes Middle School and reported another successful event… El Paso County moved several departmental offices, including the Department of Human Services and the County Clerk's Office, to its Corporate Ridge location (now renamed the Citizens Service Center) off Garden of the Gods Road… Major Westside infrastructure projects in 2011 included a water-line repair that closed Fillmore Street both ways for two days and offset left-turn lanes to improve safety for Highway 24 drivers at 26th Street… The Sunrise Company started building homes in the 117-lot Cathedral Ridge subdivision and demolishing summer rental cottages beside a golf fairway in preparation for development of the 17-unit Signature Point homes.

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