Aurora lawmakers OK new Colfax center for struggling families, art preservation, water project

FILE PHOTO: Homeless individuals and families line up around the corner on a cold winter day in hopes of receiving a motel voucher outside of the Aurora Warms the Night headquarters. A new building for Colfax Community Network could heal offer services to needy families (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

AURORA | Low-income families, LGBTQ youth and others along the East Colfax Avenue corridor could soon be looking for sanctuary at a new “family preservation center” — endowed, possibly, with $2 million in federal aid via the City of Aurora.

Bob Dorshimer — CEO of Mile High Behavioral Healthcare, which runs the nonprofit Colfax Community Network that would manage the center — approached Aurora’s City Council on Monday to ask for the council to fund the purchase of the property at 10190 E. Montview Blvd.

According to Dorshimer, Colfax Community Network identified the need for more space during the COVID-19 pandemic as the demand for services boomed.

“The children and the families that showed up really showed us that we were a cornerstone in the north Aurora community, and it was time to really start growing,” Dorshimer said. “This new opportunity of the location on Montview will allow us to grow and serve adolescents.”

The nonprofit would take over the 9,000-square-foot building, setting up a drop-in space and behavioral health services for adolescents, including safe spaces for LGBTQ youth, as well as a computer lab, food pantry, kitchen and other resources.

Supportive housing for single moms could also be located on-site, and Dorshimer envisions the center being used as overflow shelter for around 15 families during severe winter weather. Additional parking spaces will be available outside of the building for motorhomes.

“(Families) would be able to safely park outside of the facility, and the kids can play inside,” he said. “Their kids are already attending the after-school program. … If this opened up as an emergency shelter, the child is already there.”

City Council members praised the work done by Colfax Community Network and were largely supportive of Dorshimer’s request. Councilwoman Francoise Bergan, who sponsored Dorshimer’s presentation, said she especially liked that the proposal serves middle schoolers in addition to younger students.

“I’ve actually seen it with my own eyes, and the hope that you give these kids … it is life-changing for many of them,” Bergan said. “I’ve been a huge supporter of them from the beginning, and I believe most of the former council as well as the current council have also been supportive of the programs that they offer for these kids.”

She and council members Curtis Gardner, Angela Lawson, Juan Marcano, Ruben Medina and Steve Sundberg all vocally supported committing $2 million of American Rescue Plan Act funds to the new center. Council members Alison Coombs, Crystal Murillo and Dustin Zvonek also spoke favorably of the proposal.

In response to a question from Zvonek, Dorshimer said the $2 million would be used to purchase the property, which he said is worth “a significant amount more,” and that $300,000 in interior work would be financed by Colfax Community Network.

Dorshimer also told Zvonek that the nonprofit hadn’t approached the county nor any other jurisdictions for funding because of the program’s unique relationship with the City of Aurora, where the council previously agreed to keep the nonprofit afloat using marijuana tax revenue.

Mayor Mike Coffman was the lone opposing voice, saying he believed the nonprofit’s ownership of the property should be contingent on the use of the property not being changed. He also questioned why there wasn’t a current appraisal available — Dorshimer said the appraisal was being completed this week and that they had two older appraisals.

The mayor also asked the City Attorney’s Office whether Aurora Mental Health Center, which received a similar grant of $7 million in ARPA funds from the city for the development of the AuMHC Acute Care Center earlier this year, was a “quasi-governmental entity.” Staffers were not able to provide an answer.

“We don’t have the answer to that, we don’t have an appraisal of the property, and we’re set to make a decision,” Coffman said. “We’re paying the bill for this.”

“This is an opportunity that was given to CCN to purchase the building at a really, really discounted rate because they’re a nonprofit,” Bergan said. “I would hope we’d have good faith with someone who’s been doing business with the city for 21 years. … I think he’s good for his word.”

She pointed out that the council had not imposed any restrictions on Aurora Mental Health Center the future use of its Potomac campus when members voted to award the $7 million.

The council’s support Monday meant the request was on-track to move to a regular meeting where it may be voted on.

Traffic passes by the Ghost Trolley on East Colfax Avenue on June 2, 2015, Aurora, CO. (Photo by Trevor L Davis/Aurora Sentinel)

Lawmakers back public art preservation

Another project pending on Colfax is the restoration of the “Ghost Trolley” art installation near Martin Luther King Jr. Library, which the council signaled its early support for Monday.

The monument to the streetcar line that once linked Aurora with Downtown Denver was designed by Lawrence Argent, best known for the “Big Blue Bear” which peers through the windows of the Colorado Convention Center.

“Ghost Trolley” was installed in 2007. Since then, public art supervisor Roberta Bloom told the council the work’s unique, transparent surface has become chipped and damaged.

“The artwork brings to life the history of Aurora and of this neighborhood,” she said. “It is a major highlight of Aurora’s public art collection.”

Bloom said it will cost $64,175 for Pacific Coast Conservation to temporarily remove the artwork and restore it to its original, ghostly glory.

The process is expected to take around nine months, with funding coming out of the Art in Public Places Administration and Maintenance Reserve Fund.

Council members did not oppose the restoration.

“It’s very important that we maintain our public art in good condition as part of just demonstrating pride in our city, and it really does create a sense of community identity,” Coombs said.

The restoration is expected to preserve Argent’s work for another 10-15 years. Bloom said the total original cost of the artwork was $94,000 but added the value of the piece is believed to have increased since the artist’s death in 2017.

The living room and kitchen area of a three bedroom, two bathroom apartment at the Village at Westerly Creek affordable housing complex. 
Photo by Philip B. Poston/The Sentinel

More subsidized housing

Council members also gave an early stamp of approval to staff recommendations for allocating close to $27 million in federal support for affordable and supportive housing.

That includes $800,000 in community development block grants, $1.5 million in ARPA funds, $3.6 million through the HOME Investment Partnerships Program and $21 million in private activity bonds.

One of the projects tapped to receive federal dollars is a supportive housing development sponsored by the Aurora Housing Authority that would be located on the same Potomac Street campus as the AuMHC Acute Care Center.

Staff recommended the council approve the housing authority’s request for $1 million in ARPA dollars to support construction of the 60-unit complex, which would serve residents making no more than 30% of the area median income.

Other projects that could benefit from federal dollars include:

Fitzsimons Gateway Apartments – Peoria Street and 14th Avenue – 210 units serving 30-70% AMI – recommended for $1 million through HOME and $11 million in private activity bonds.

Elevate Aurora – 1671 Altura Blvd. – 131 units serving 30-70% AMI –  recommended for $500,000 through ARPA and $1 million through HOME.

Aurora Metro Center Station Senior Housing – South Granby Street and East Virginia Avenue – 222 units serving 30-80% AMI – recommended for $960,000 through HOME and $5 million in private activity bonds.

Residences at Willow Park – 14601 E. Colorado Drive – 72 units serving ≤30% AMI – recommended for $800,000 in CDBGs.

Weatherstone Apartments – 15594 E. 12th Ave. – 204 units serving ≤60% AMI – recommended for $5 million in private activity bonds.

Emporia Duplex Project – Emporia Street and 25th Avenue – 12 units serving ≤80% AMI – recommended for $640,000 through HOME.

Director of housing and community services Jessica Prosser told Sundberg she had “definitely” seen an increase in developers pursuing affordable housing projects over the past two and a half years.

Congressional pipe dreams granted

Aurora lawmakers also indicated their support for two pitches for Congressional community project funding that could be made to John Hickenlooper, Michael Bennet and Jason Crow.

The first would spend $4 million to replace around 13,260 feet of aging cast-iron pipe serving the North Aurora and Del Mar Parkway neighborhoods with PVC pipe.

According to information included in the council’s agenda packet, the pipes were laid in the 1950s, and corrosion and breakages are getting more likely.

The second pitch would invest $2.5 million in the lobby and vacant second floor of the Martin Luther King Jr. Library, setting aside space for young visitors and providing a makerspace and computer lab with 3D printers, virtual reality technology, a video production lab, cameras, microphones and lighting equipment.

Council members did not oppose either pitch moving forward from Monday’s study session, though Bergan said she wished the requests included transportation work, and Lawson and Councilmember Danielle Jurinsky both said they hoped upgrades could be spread out across the city’s library system.