Westside Stories of the Year
2009: What can happen when money gets scarce

       Lots of changes. That's one thing Westsiders can say for certain about the past year.
       It began with School District 11 closing elementaries at four long-time locations (Pike, Whittier, Washington and Buena Vista) as part of its “reutilization” strategy, and ended with City Council targeting Rock Ledge Ranch and the Westside Community Center for closure by April 2010 if hundreds of thousands of dollars in private funding cannot be found.

Westside school changes... Maryls Berg, Whittier Elementary's last principal, amused students by going down the slide during the school's farewell event May 15.
Westside Pioneer photo

Westside school changes... A recent shot at the former Zebulon Pike Elementary shows the mascot Pirate statue by Charles Green in front of a temporary sign for the building's current main tenant, the Colorado Springs Youth Symphony.
Westside Pioneer photo

       Serious budget shortfalls were behind both these situations, making them almost dead-heat candidates for top Westside story of the year.
       But it's also evident, after a review of the Westside Pioneer's '09 archives, that many other major stories had thin-wallet origins as well. Undeniable signs of the times are the increasing numbers of transient tents along local trails and creeks - although that's due in part to a lenient shift in city policy - and a noticeable slowdown in residential and commercial construction.
       Not all was gloomy in '09. After a major, fast-tracked summer renovation, the new West Elementary moved almost seamlessly into half of the 75-year-old West Middle School building last August. The Roundhouse commercial center redeveloped gracefully where Van Briggle Pottery used to be. And, thanks to a resolute effort by dozens of volunteers, White Acres is now part of the city open-space system.
       So which story is number one? The city budget cuts are painful, but most of the actual impacts won't hit until 2010. For 2009, because hundreds of Westside families have already been affected we have to go with…
       1. D-11 school closures - For at least 10 years, the district's Board of Education had shied away from staff, consultant and volunteer-group recommendations to close one or more of the small Westside elementaries to save money and give students a theoretically fuller education in bigger schools. In 2009, the district finally had a board that was willing to do it. The eventually approved plan resulted in a musical-chairs rearrangement that left no Westside elementary untouched. Buena Vista's Montessori moved to the Washington building; the Bijou (alternative high) School moved into the former Whittier. The new West Elementary attendance area takes students from three of the closed schools. Howbert and Jackson elementaries each added significant numbers of new students, requiring classroom additions that will open to students in January). Next semester, the board is slated to discuss additional changes, such as combining the two West schools into a permanent K-8.
       At the public meetings last winter, the board heard many dire predictions, including loss of enrollment (which didn't happen), low-income students falling through the cracks (still unknown) and threats of a recall (which also didn't happen, and one of the directors, Sandra Mann, easily won re-election later in the year).
      

Musket demonstrations were part of the show by Civil War reenactors at the Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site during its Family Fourth event July 4. With city subsidies gone, ranch supporters have calculated Rock Ledge needs $136,000 in private funding to stay open - let alone offer programs - past March 31.
Westside Pioneer photo
2. City budget impacts - City Council's failed attempt in November to pass the 2C property tax increase, along with continually dipping sales tax revenues and simultaneous voter support of government foe Doug Bruce's Issue 300, lent a double blow to a 2010 city budget that was already expected to be millions of dollars short. Resulting cuts have hit all departments, trimming programs and employees (more than 180 were laid off or took early retirements). The biggest slashes were in the Parks Department, which oversees the Westside's Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site and citywide community centers (including the Westside Community Center). Council scraped together enough funds to keep Rock Ledge and the centers open until April. All are scrambling for private funds just to stay open the rest of the year - the Rock Ledge estimate is $136,000, while the Westside Center is looking at more than $200,000.
       Along with across-the-board service reductions, other budget-cut impacts Westsiders are sure to feel in 2010 include higher sports fees, reduced public transit, no watering or maintenance except at major parks (only Bancroft on the Westside) and the indefinite delay of a major 21st Street/Highway 24 safety project that was to have started last fall.
       3. West Elementary begins - Washington Elementary was one of the school closures, but District 11 tabbed its principal, Terry Martinez, last March to lead the new, 300-student elementary, which would take in students from his old school, as well as some from Whittier and Buena Vista. West opened just five months later, after D-11 fast-tracked a $690,000 remodeling plan that carved space out of the (formerly named) West Intergenera-tional Center (which relocated to the Buena Vista site - see Story #11) and from the under-utilized West Middle School building. Despite the speed of the work, the widespread student impact and the requirement to keep elementary and middle students apart except in structured situations, Martinez has reported no significant problems during the first semester - other than a shortage of elementary restrooms (being addressed) and ongoing traffic-safety concerns at the new school's 20th Street entrance (not yet addressed).
      

As a highlight at the centennial Founders' Day celebration Aug. 8 in Bancroft Park, Ed Nuccio directs the 72-member New Horizons Symphonic Band in the "Colorado Midland Band March," a 110-year-old musical work. Dappled light from the overhanging trees can be seen on band members and their music.
Westside Pioneer photo
4. Historic anniversaries - In 2009, the Westside enjoyed events marking three anniversaries: the 150th year since Colorado City was founded and the century since the Garden of the Gods was given to Colorado Springs and since city founder William Palmer died. The Old Colorado City Historical Society (OCCHS) left lasting legacies with its attentions to the Colorado City sesquicentennial. Most prominent is a 6-foot-high, rose granite monument, funded by donations, that the OCCHS unveiled in Bancroft Park at the annual Founders' Day event in August. The monument has eight sides, each with an etched panel displaying a drawing and summarizing part of the Westside's history going back to 1859. The OCCHS also buried a time capsule in its History Center courtyard (containing artifacts from present times) that is to be dug up after another 150 years.
       5. White Acres - Going into 2009, it seemed as if open-space advocates' efforts to preserve the scenic 45-acre parcel next to Red Rock Canyon Open Space had failed and that plans would go forward to annex it to Colorado Springs for a residential development. But instead Bethany Baptist Church and developer Paul Howard offered the land to the city's Trails, Open Space and Parks (TOPS) program at a reduced price (about $1 million). A four-year, four-phase payment deal was finalized in the spring, but cost was still an issue because the TOPS fund was already mostly allocated for 2009. “Save White Acres” supporters, led by the Friends of Red Rock Canyon, stepped up with a $75,000 fundraising campaign that eventually paid three-quarters of the Phase 1 $100,000 payment for 2009. TOPS (funded by the .1-percent open space tax) is poised to cover the remaining three phases.
       6. Roundhouse - After more than 50 years of use by Van Briggle Pottery, the one-time Midland railroad roundhouse got its original name back as part of a $2.5 million redevelopment by the Griffis/ Blessing development company that gutted the stone-built, 122-year-old former train-repair facility at 21st Street and Highway 24. Work continued from December 2008 to May of this year, when the new commercial center opened with its first tenant (Carmichael Training Systems) in about a third of the 30,000 square feet of space. A second tenant, Pro Cycling, has since signed on. Efforts are continuing to bring in a restaurant.
       The improvements included a bolstered foundation, new glass windows and doors (customized to fit the 30-plus train-door openings), extensive landscaping, repaved parking lot, new access from Bott Avenue, a right-turn-only lane from 21st onto Bott, and curb, gutter and sidewalks,
       7. Homeless - In just a year, the area has seen a change in the downtown/ Westside scene, from scattered and often hidden campsites to a much larger, very visual “tent city” lining parts of Monument and Fountain creeks. While some blame the economy, others point to a change in city policy, dating back to late 2008 when homeless advocates threatened a lawsuit against police efforts to discourage transient camping on public lands. Uncertain about withstanding a legal challenge, the city took a new position allowing the camping to go on, unchecked. The growing numbers last summer led to merchants west of 31st Street forming a new organization and working with the city on issues of theft, panhandling, drug use, public indecency and open fires. City Police organized a Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) to help campers better themselves if possible. But City Council, concerned about its level of compassion, spurned a police-proposed ordinance (supported by neighborhood organizations) that would have made public camping illegal.
      

Repeated rainstorms at the '09 Territory Days reduced the income for its beneficiary, the Old Colorado City Associates commercial group.
Westside Pioneer photo
8. Old Colorado City - The 150th year of one of the region's earliest settlements lived up in some ways to its rowdy past. A new board of directors on the Old Colorado City Associates (OCCA) commercial group expanded its geographic scope, added two successful events (Ice on the Avenue and the Old Town Showdown) and undertook what they described as internal efficiency measures. However, some of these board actions - including the firing/resignation of two long- time contractors and retention of a controversial marketing director in a tight budget year - offended several former OCCA leaders, who started an alternative business group, the Historic District Merchants. Also in Old Town, the Old Colorado City Security & Maintenance District added more ore carts and landscaping, the Simpich family returned with the new Simpich Showcase (puppet theater, museum and gallery), and three independently planned annual events (the Car Show, Art on the Avenue and Halloween Safe Treats) increased in size.
       9. District 3, City Council - Jerry Heimlicher had held this post for six years, gaining a reputation for aiding Westside commercial and neighborhood groups, and he was easily re-elected in April. However, he announced in September that for personal reasons he needed to relocate to his home state of Tennessee. To take his place (at least until the April 2011 city election), council appointed libertarian political analyst Sean Paige. Heimlicher, as well as some other Westsiders, expressed initial concerns about someone with a less-government philosophy filling the shoes of a man who had personified government initiative. However, Paige won early support by convincing other council members to give Rock Ledge Ranch and the community centers a three-month reprieve into 2010. He also offered to “take a lead role” in their fundraising efforts.
      

Placement of boulders weighing four to five tons is part of the Fountain Creek restoration project.
Westside Pioneer file photo
10. Fountain Creek project - Since last June, drivers along Highway 24 between 21st and 8th streets could glance over and see major construction activity (including extensive bank stabilization and the laying of boulders four to five tons in size) south of the road along a 3,000-foot segment of Fountain Creek. The work, which was nearing conclusion going into January, is a $2.3 million restoration project with the multiple goals of improved creek flow, expanded flood protection, control of tailings from a one-time gold mill on the current Gold Hill Mesa residential-commercial property and creation of fish habitats. Partnering in the project are Gold Hill Mesa, the Stormwater Enterprise and the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT). The project, which started well before the Issue 300 vote in November that spelled the end of the Stormwater Enterprise, will be allowed to finish, according to city officials. CDOT was interested in the project because of the wayward creek's proximity to the highway.
       11. Community center move - For 17 years, the West Intergenerational Center had served the public out of an 8,000-square-foot addition at the northwest corner of West Middle School, expanding its scope as needed by being able to use school facilities when school was out. But District 11's reutilization strategy triggered the need for a new, larger elementary that would take in part of the middle school as well as all of the center location. As compensation, the city was given the old Buena Vista school site at no charge (plus air-conditioning and a five-year warranty). The greater space (32,000 square feet) offered possibilities for an expanded community presence when the move occured in June, but the city budget crunch - threatening the center's very existence within three months - has put much of that on the back burner.
       12. Sunrise Company developments - About three years ago, the multi-state Sunrise Company bought most of the Hill Family's vast holdings on the Mesa, including Kissing Camels, the Garden of the Gods Club and hundreds of acres of developable property. In the past year, after working its way through extensive city and neighborhood reviews, Sunrise gained City Council approval to build two sizable residential developments - the 28-acre, 88-lot Sentinel Ridge parcel off Fillmore Street and Mesa Road and the 37-acre, 87-lot Cathedral Ridge (117 lots in all, including some that were previously approved) overlooking Pleasant Valley west of Mesa Road and south of the Garden of the Gods Club. In an interview last week, Sunrise Company President Dirk Gosda said that with the continuing real-estate slump, construction is not imminent on either project, although there has been “pretty good interest” in Cathedral Ridge and 20 lots could be built on now. Work is not expected to start on Sentinel until spring of 2011, he said.
       13. Community gardens - Since 1986, the Bear Creek Garden had been the Westside's only large community garden (in which plots are leased for the season to individual gardeners). But more have begun proliferating, thanks to the non-profit Pikes Peak Urban Gardens (PPUG) and a clearly growing public interest. PPUG's first was two years ago outside the Holy Theophany Orthodox Church on North Chestnut. This year PPUG worked with area residents to inaugurate the Old Colorado City Community Garden at 2825 W. Colorado Ave., and later in 2009 the business coordinated with City Parks on a plan to start community gardens in unused parts of Vermijo Park (off 26th Street) and the former Buena Vista school playground (now the Westside Community Center, 1628 W. Bijou St.), at no cost to the city. After a December public meeting that brought no neighborhood objections, the Vermijo garden is slated for planting this spring (assuming the expected approval from the City Parks Board), according to City Parks Development Manager Chris Lieber. The Westside Center garden continues to be the subject of weekly meetings (Tuesday mornings at 10 a.m.) at the center (phone 385-7920).
       14. Historic overlay/ design guidelines - For about seven years, the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN) has been pursuing a plan for an historic overlay zone that would allow tax credits for people who fix up their older homes. The guidelines, funded by a joint city/state grant, are a technical step toward that end, providing historical background and building particulars. Prepared by a contracted architect, the guidelines were being printed in December. For those interested in obtaining copies of the roughly 120-page architectural-information document, they will be made available at three public meetings (which are not yet scheduled), according to Tim Scanlon, the outgoing preservation planner (whose position has been eliminated in 2010 because of the city budget cuts). A total of 350 copies will be printed, with about 300 of them to become available to the public at the meetings, he said. But how the overlay itself would work, especially with reduced staff, remains unclear. OWN and the city were meeting on these issues in December.
      

Coronado High School's Class of 2011 proclaimed their spirit from a flatbed truck "float" rolling through Old Colorado City during last fall's 39th annual Homecoming Parade. With roughly quintupled costs for the 40th annual, the school has started a fundraising drive.
Westside Pioneer photo
15. Coronado Homecoming Parade - For 39 years, the Westside's public high school has displayed its spirit - as well as that of its feeder schools - with a parade through Old Colorado City on the morning of its annual homecoming football game. According to school officials and volunteers, it used to be a simple, relatively inexpensive affair, but new, liability-related city regulations will require a longer planning effort and a roughly quintupled price (from about $1,000 to $5,000) in the future. High school administrators have started fundraising to cover the additional cost, and current student leaders expect to set an example for those who follow them by starting work on the fall 2010 parade this spring - even though most of them will graduate before it happens. School parades are becoming increasingly rare around the country. Will the tradition continue at Coronado? Time will tell.
       16. Eight Street safety project - As part of a citywide, three-site effort that required approvals from four governments and funding from two of them, this intricate project took about five years to go from blueprints to actual construction between June and October. The final product consists of a greatly lengthened northbound Eighth Street right-turn-only lane leading up to Highway 24, a 120-foot-long pedestrian footbridge over Fountain Creek (next to the Eighth Street traffic bridge) and a sidewalk (there had been none before) set on top of a newly built retaining wall for space reasons between the creek and Highway 24. True to the luck of the project, on the day the two halves of the footbridge were trucked down from the Denver area for installation, it rained.
       17. Douglas Creek drainage - The Stormwater Enterprise once had big upgrade plans for the roughly 35-year-old, half-mile-long, concrete-lined ditch that carries flood waters behind the former Intel plant between Garden of the Gods Road and Centennial Boulevard. After what Enterprise engineers termed “emergency repairs” (costing about $500,000) at four badly broken sections in 2009, a full $3.6 million redo of the ditch had been planned to start as early as 2010. But that work is now indefinitely postponed by the elimination of the Stormwater Enterprise. Also on hold is another multi-million-dollar, once-scheduled Storm-water proposal - to upgrade Pleasant Valley's Camp Creek drainage ditch.
       18 Standout elementaries - Howbert and Pike set the bar high in the Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP) testing last spring. Pike's fifth-graders scored 100 in math and reading, and Howbert's fifth grade was perfect in math. From the previous year, Pike had already been honored as the top acadmic Title 1 school in Colorado, and Howbert as a John Irwin school (among the top 8 percent in the state). Both saw changes in 2009's District 11 reutilization, with Pike being closed (its former students dispersed primarily to Bristol or Jackson) and Howbert's principal, David Morris, being moved to Trailblazer, which may become a K-8 school. The new Howbert principal is Gail Smartt, who'd been at Twain. Pike's former principal, Manuel Ramsey, was moved to Bristol, replacing 12-year principal Steve Ferguson, who retired.
       19. Highway 24 - After fairly frequent public meetings between 2004 and 2008, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) held only two in 2009 (following one in late 2008) that related to aesthetic aspects of the future project to widen the highway between I-25 and Ridge Road. Participants offered feedback on architectural and landscape niceties such as bridges, pedestrian crossings and sound barriers. They were assured that their input was not in vain. “The EA [Environmental Assessment] will be referring to this document,” CDOT-contracted landscape architect Kevin Shanks told the Westside Pioneer in April. “As the roadway design advances, part of the mitigation for the project impacts will be in the aesthetic guidelines… Having them attached to the EA is kind of unique.” The next public meeting is not planned until mid-2010, at which CDOT expects to unveil its draft EA for the widening work. Final approval would still be needed at the federal level. No construction is foreseen until 2016 at the earliest.
       20. Developments - A sign of tough times in the building trades is that none of the “controversial” developments noted in the 2008 Stories of the Year have been started on, other than terrace grading for the Palmer House commercial redevelopment. Still fallow from that list are Sentinel and Cathedral (Story #12 above), the Shoppes at Bear Creek commercial expansion, the Uintah Bluffs residential development, the Horizon View subdivision and White Acres (which became open space - see Story #5 above). Some noticeable work that was accomplished in '09 included the second story at 2421-2423 W. Colorado Ave., the foundation for a large addition at 2532 W. Colorado, the first duplex at 3325 W. Kiowa St. (also controversial), the Chick-Fil-A fast-food on one-time Hungry Farmer restaurant site at 575 W. Garden of the Gods Road, a new surgery center at the Humane Society and several houses at Gold Hill Mesa.
       Honorable mentions… Fast-working firefighters narrowly saved Westside properties from three brush fires in 2009, but an apparently accidental August blaze at the Stepping Stones condominium complex off North 19th Street forced residents to evacuate 12 units and caused an estimated $1.5 million in damage before it was contained…
       Colorado Springs Utilities started a three-year, $8.6 million upgrade of the storage tanks at its Mesa water treatment plant this fall. The plant treats most of the city's water…
       Recovering from original builder John Laing's bankruptcy in '08, Gold Hill Mesa brought in two new builders in '09 (Challenger Homes and Creekstone Homes) and added a fitness center for residents. About 200 people now live in 65 homes at Gold Hill, developer Bob Willard said in late November…
       Aided by $100,000 in private donations through the Friends of Red Rock Canyon, a $359,000 pavilion for open-space users was completed at Red Rock and dedicated in June. The balance was paid through the TOPS fund…
       With District 11 seeking uses for its empty school buildings, the Colorado Springs Youth Symphony Association (CSYSA), which trains advanced musicians from area schools, took over much of the former Pike Elementary space for offices and practice spaces. At the former Bijou School site, a development combining townhomes with a low-impact commercial center is being considered ...
       Whitney Hendrickson, 18, who grew up on the Westside, died in a freak accident at the 15th Street 7-Eleven gas pumps March 17. The driver of the vehicle that caused her death was later sentenced to five years probation…
       Coronado's extracurricular Robotics engineering team won the regional competition in its first year; also, the school's ProStart cooking class won its third state title in four years, and several Coronado instrumental music groups ranked first against schools from other states in a large California music festival…
       Affected by county budget cutbacks going into 2009, the Bear Creek Nature Center continued through the year with a reduced schedule and increased help from volunteers. A similar plan is anticipated for 2010…
       Dave Hughes, a Westside civic leader for more than 30 years, kept active in '09, receiving a state award for historical preservation, drafting the text for the OCCHS' new Bancroft Park monument (see Story #4 above) and helping locate the long-lost, 110-year-old “Colorado Midland Band March” music for the New Horizons Band to play at the Sesquicentennial…
       The city, county and Manitou Springs sought a grant for the “No Man's Land” segment along Colorado/Manitou Avenue west of about 33rd Street, but was turned down, meaning another year with an aging bridge at Adams Crossing and almost no curb, gutter or sidewalks…
      

Part of Magic Town (which can be viewed for a fee) is displayed inside what is now titled the Michael Garman Museum in Old Colorado City.
Westside Pioneer photo
After announcing that his business would close its doors in 2009, nationally famous sculptor Michael Garman changed his mind, and the Old Colorado City business that bears his name is continuing as the Garman Museum…
       Six-year District 1 City Councilmember Scott Hente was re-elected unopposed to a four-year term in April…
       Adjusting to public funding cuts to its transportation program, Westside-based Silver Key adjusted with the help of hundreds of new volunteers…
       A Dave Hughes-led proposal to briefly reopen a cave in the Garden of the Gods for documentary purposes was denied by the Colorado Springs Parks Board, based on objections from Southern Ute Indian representatives…
       And last, but not least, the annual Bishop family reunion, which has met on the first Sunday in August for 131 years (most recently at Thorndale Park), moved to Bear Creek Regional Park in '09.

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