Westside Community Center

Two proposals to operate the Westside Community Center have fallen through, and the city of Colorado Springs will continue to search for a new operator.

The two proposals generated from the city of Colorado Springs’ search to create a new life for the Westside Community Center have fallen through, according to Kim King, recreation and administration manager of the Parks, Creation and Cultural Services Department.

That leaves hanging the fate of the popular center that occupies the former Buena Vista Elementary school property at 1628 W. Bijou St.

Officials will not at this time reopen the request for proposals’ process that began last fall to select a new contractor, King said.

Residents are relieved, said Westsider Kathy Perry and part of the Save the Westsiders Community Group.

“The original scope of the request for proposals was broad and did not state that the property had to remain a community center,” she said. It also said the new operator had to make the center financially viable, which Perry said isn’t fair of a community service.

The first interested entity, Mountain Song Community School, a public charter school, failed to gain approval from Colorado Springs School District 11 leaders to take over the property, officials announced in May.

The second proposal, from the YMCA of the Pikes Peak region, which already operates the city’s swimming pools and senior center, as well as children’s camps at Westside Community Center, was not able to “come together with the city’s goals to be successful,” King said.

What happens next is uncertain.

“We’ll evaluate and determine the next steps,” King said. “We’ve not even gotten to the point of determining what the options could look like.”

The Center for Strategic Ministry, a nonprofit affiliated with Woodmen Valley Chapel, will continue to operate the center until the city finds another operator, said The Rev. Stu Davis, pastor of city impact for Woodmen Valley Chapel, which has five campuses in Colorado Springs.

The center had planned on vacating on Dec. 31 its role as overseer and manager of the large, three-building property.

Other organizations and businesses lease space to provide community programs and services for children through senior citizens, including a food pantry, a senior meals’ program, a preschool, counselors, artists, fitness coaches, health clinics and other entities.

Now, “We have an ongoing agreement with the city to continue to operate the center until a future operator is found,” Davis said.

However, an email Davis sent to city officials on Monday and which The Gazette obtained, said the Center for Strategic Ministry hopes in the next 30 days to have a longer-term proposal to discuss with city representatives that “represents a win for all parties: the city, the church and the neighborhood.”

The Center for Strategic Ministry notified the city two years ago that it planned to not renew its contract beyond 2021, Davis said in talking with The Gazette, with the intention of handing it over to an organization to “sustain the kind of work that happens at a community center, from a funding and programming standpoint.”

The church-related organization took on the community center in 2010, after the Great Recession stymied the city’s ability to run it.

But “we can only grow it so much as a church,” Davis said. “That’s the city’s job to grow it, not Woodmen Valley Chapel.”

Concerned that proposals would eliminate what’s been a Westside hub, neighbors rallied, holding meetings and erecting signs advocating to save it.

King said the request for proposals was broad to “give organizations the opportunity to explore the potential for out-of-the-box uses and what that might bring forward.”

As of Tuesday, 2,754 people had signed an online petition to save the site for use as a community center.

“The friends and neighbors of the community center want significant community involvement in its operation and programming,” Perry said.

City leaders could not discuss proposals during the review and selection, King said, which frustrated some neighbors.

“I was sorry they were so upset,” King said. “We were trying to follow established processes and procedures and couldn’t give out information because we were in the middle of the process.”

An operator would be required to do some maintenance, with the city taking care of large improvements, King said, but she isn’t sure whether that deterred more than two proposals from being submitted. The low response could be the timing, she said.

“Having all of this occurring with the challenging year we had, it can shift an organization’s abilities in terms of what they can propose,” she said. “Whether it was too restrictive or asking too much at this point in time could be a possibility.”

Colorado Springs City Councilor Tom Strand, who lives a block and a half from the community center, said he’s hopeful a solution that appeases all entities will be reached.

“I’m optimistic we’ll be able to keep everything we’ve had and build more programs,” he said.

Contact the writer: debbie.kelley@gazette.com

Contact the writer: 719-476-1656.

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