Playtime Is Over

Parents in northwest Denver finally got their school -- or did they?

"A lot of neighbors are concerned about the rezoning because it will set a precedent of building office space in the middle of a residential area. We pride ourselves on the residences in our neighborhood," Brehm says. "Anytime there's a proposal to change zoning, it should raise a red flag, because you have to look at the long-term implications."

Montero, who was replaced on the board by Lucia Guzman in November's election, defends the agreement between the monastery and the school district. "For the Capuchins to sell the DPS part of its property, they have to be able to do what they want or it doesn't make sense for them. The Capuchins want to do some things with their property, and in order for them to do so, they have to get some changes made. That's entirely separate from the DPS, which has no control over them," she says. "You have a group of people -- HUNI -- that claims to represent the entire community. Part of the problem with neighborhood organizations is that they think they can make decisions for the community without any authority."

The same group, Montero points out, objected to the relocation of an alternative school at 28th Avenue and Wyandot Street two years ago; she says they feared students would cause a disturbance in the neighborhood and spray graffiti on their homes. "They're just a handful of white, upper-middle-class folks objecting to an improvement in the community. The Capuchins have been in northwest Denver for a very long time, and they have a right to do what they want with their property."

New neighbors: The Capuchin Franciscans are holding up construction of a new school in northwest Denver.
New neighbors: The Capuchin Franciscans are holding up construction of a new school in northwest Denver.

Some residents have spoken out against the 36th Avenue closure because they say the rerouting of traffic will clog their residential streets and decrease the amount of off-street parking spaces. But their main concern rests with what the school will look like if it actually gets built. The design plan, which was presented to the school board in September and is still being revised, calls for a two-level, 65,000-square-foot box of a building with a flat roof. Torres, who sat on the thirteen-member advisory committee, refused to sign off on the design because she says it doesn't blend in with the historic neighborhood's Victorian and bungalow-style homes. She's also miffed because only three community members were on the committee, which she believes was a rubber stamp for the school district.

"It looks like a youth detention facility, and it's going in across from the city's second-largest historic district. We want a building people will be proud of, not one that looks like a prison," adds Maureen Keller, a member of HUNI who has been actively involved in the push for the dual-language/Montessori program.

But Keller isn't worried about not getting a school in the neighborhood. She thinks the district is just bluffing. "The DPS likes to make threats," she says. "It's nice to have a playing field, but the elementary school I went to didn't have a playing field. The district is just concentrating on the playing field because they have a certain amount of bond money they have to spend. If the only issue was the playing field, people in the community wouldn't be against it. The issue is that the district is proposing an ugly, substandard school."

Langley, however, says the school would be substandard without a field. Every elementary school in the district has an outdoor area for kids, he says; to not build one in northwest Denver would "not be fair and not be feasible."

Still, Keller is confident that the school will be built. "They're just trying to scare us," she says. "The question is, is it going to be a school the community wants or a school the DPS wants?"

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