Westside Community Center will continue to operate as recommendations for city staff are being finalized | Content reserved for subscribers

Three recommendations from a public inquiry and meetings about what the city of Colorado Springs should do with the Westside Community Center are being adjusted, after the final stage of assessing what the community wants, the city said. Councilwoman Stephannie Fortune, who represents the district that includes the center.

More than 60 people attended a “community design workshop” on Saturday, led by an independent contractor hired by the city.

And nearly 550 people filled out a survey about their desires for future uses of the property at Three Buildings, a former elementary school campus that Colorado Springs School District 11 donated to the city.

The most common theme, Fortune said, is “making sure we have a community center” and making sure the voices of the community are heard.

The center will remain open, she said.

After the contract with the current operator expires on May 31, the center will move to reduced hours of 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, beginning June 1.

The pantry, meals on wheels and seniors meal service will continue, as will current programs being held during those hours, according to city staff.

The remaining tenants have the option of offering their services within the revised hours on a monthly basis. No new tenants will be accepted during the transition.

The remaining balance of the city’s operating contract of $150,000 will be used to keep the center operating until city administrators decide on a permanent direction, officials said.

Residents fear the city will close the community center at 1628 W. Bijou St., since the Center for Strategic Ministry, a Woodmen Valley Chapel nonprofit that has operated the campus for 12 years, said it did not want to continue his Contract.

The city has been unsuccessful in securing a new operator for the property since it began its search in the fall of 2020. The Center for Strategic Ministry submitted a bid, but withdrew it in March after failure negotiations and the neighbors complained that they did not want a monk. organization to continue to operate it.

The majority of survey respondents indicated that programs aimed at adults and seniors would be most beneficial to current and future users and are most important to the community as a whole.

Based on the total feedback, the top three recommendations on how to proceed are:

• Establish a social enterprise model that combines private sector businesses with public city ownership.

• Determine a pathway that integrates the community’s wishes for the campus with achievable programs.

• Make sure there is adequate funding to accomplish what people want.

Residents also indicated that forming an advisory board is important, Fortune said.

“Partnerships are the wave of the future,” she said. “Other institutions have succeeded. How can the city take the money it is able to invest and develop the structure and capacity to recommend these recommendations? »

Fine-tuning of the suggestions to create actionable, long-term recommendations is underway, Fortune said.

The survey results showed that pantry and early childhood education ranked second and third most important to the community as a whole. On-site community gardens – with plots that the city leases – and special events ranked second and third most important to remember among current and future users.

A follow-up meeting and online debriefing for those who were unable to attend Saturday’s session or wish to continue providing feedback will be held virtually from 5-6 p.m. on June 2.

City administrators will review the recommendations made.

Neighbors have been campaigning publicly for nearly two years to preserve the center for community use.

The Westside center is one of four the city has, but the only one that was donated, Fortune said, and therefore operated under a different model. The others are staffed and managed by city employees.

“These issues are never easy,” Fortune said. “Everyone is happy when an institution receives a given building, but whoever owns the buildings says, ‘Now what? How can we make it work when we don’t have the resources? »

But she said she was “very optimistic” that a solution was in sight.

“We don’t want to miss anything,” she said. “This center is too critical to the health, well-being and enrichment of citizens.”

Jill E. Washington