A little more than a year after taking on operation of the Westside Community Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., the city is enthusiastic about its success.
“We are really pleased with how far we’ve come,” commented Mark Snow, community recreation manager for the Colorado Springs Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department.
Founded in 1871, Colorado Springs, a city of about 491,000 residents, has four neighborhood community centers that provide a variety of services. The 1911 building that houses the Westside Community Center has enjoyed a rich history in its 112-year life.
The west side of Colorado Springs was originally Colorado City, a separate municipality on the outskirts of Colorado Springs, explained Kimberly King, assistant director of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services and a native of the area. The building was constructed as a school in a town that had a reputation for saloons and gambling parlors. “Since Colorado Springs was dry, Colorado City was where people went to have fun,” King said.
Adolphus Busch started a brewery in Colorado City, as well as the Colorado City Glass Company to make bottles for his beer. When nationwide efforts to stem the tide of alcoholism among industrial workers gained strength in the early 20th century, Colorado City decided it was time to join the movement. In 1913, the city voted to go dry, and in 1917, Colorado City was annexed into Colorado Springs.
The building that is now the Westside Community Center continued to operate as Buena Vista School until the spring of 2009, when School District 11 and the city entered an agreement to transfer the Intergenerational Learning Center programs from another of the district’s schools. “There was a significant downturn in the economy in 2009,” King explained.
The city’s budgeting process for 2010 resulted in cutbacks that included the four community centers.
“So, we started an RFP process looking for operators for the four community centers.”
The search for community center operators resulted in only one successful proposal: The Westside Community Center contract went to a local church, Woodmen Valley Chapel. The church operated the center from 2010 until 2020 when the ministry decided to pursue other opportunities.
Colorado Springs spent the next two years searching for a new organization to operate and manage the center, while local residents campaigned to keep it open. In 2022, the city committed to operating the center with funding from the general revenue budget in addition to creating a public-private partnership, bringing in programs and vendors to serve the neighborhood.
Snow said the Westside Center is unique among the city’s four community centers. In addition to the 1911 school, there is a cottage that provides space for events, and a third building that has rooms for services to the neighborhood. While all of the city’s centers serve lower socio-economic neighborhoods, Westside serves a significant number of senior citizens as well.
To help make the center affordable for the city to operate, Snow said Colorado Springs’ nationally recognized therapeutic recreation program moved onto the property. “The program’s team helps to run the center.”
One of the staples of the center is the Westside Cares food pantry which has operated for the last 15 years. In addition, there is a licensed childcare center on the property and a senior lunch program that provides nutritious meals and socialization for senior citizens in the community. The senior meal program, called the Silver Key Connections Café, is partially funded by Pike’s Peak Area Council of Governments/Area Agency on Aging.
Snow added that the African American Historical and Genealogical Society of Colorado Springs also has space at the center. “They provide a valuable service to the African American community tracing their family lineage.”
He said the local YMCA has two large rooms in the east cottage building where they have senior programs as well as a youth summer camp.
“And we have a crafters group, table tennis and pickleball, after-school tutoring, free music lessons, and our gym is a much-coveted space!”
There is also a community garden on the property, with 71 eight-foot beds that are rented for $30 for the season. The cost includes water to grow the gardens.
Snow said one of the most significant additions to the center’s operation has been the creation of a working committee to gather community feedback for programs that are wanted and needed by local residents.
The 10-member committee was formed in late 2022 to review and endorse proposals for programs and tenants. Their recommendations go to the city, which determines the logistics that are unique to the Westside center, Snow said. “I see us expanding our hours to have after-school, evening and weekend events and expanding who we serve to include youth, young adults and families.” Currently, the center is operating from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays.
Snow said there are also plans to rent spaces for private events such as birthday parties, showers and family gatherings. Opportunities for new tenants and programs are accepted through proposals submitted to the working committee.
When the center was operated by Woodmen Valley Chapel, the city allocated $100,000 for operations. The current annual budget for the new private-public partnership model is $371,000, King said. This is less than half of the operating budget for each of the other three community centers in Colorado Springs.
Assessing the first year of operation, he summarized, “We’re open. We have programs. We have Wi-Fi, and we see a path forward. This is truly significant progress.”