Selling the Contemporary Learning Academy could mean big opportunities for DPS

Last week's meeting of the Denver Board of Education was a mess of complicated math problems, including:

Question 1) If Denver Public Schools is planning to release 220 teachers, how long will the public-comment period — seven-and-a-half hours, filled with complaints — extend the meeting?

Answer: Until after 3 a.m.

Question 2) If, during a record ten-hour board meeting, a record general budget is approved, that's how many millions per hour?

Answer: $81.1 million, for a total of $811 million.

Question 3) If Denver Public Schools is contemplating a property swap that includes not just the legendary Emily Griffith Opportunity School and DPS headquarters but also a swath of desolate wasteland in southeast Denver, then which will engender the most controversy?

Answer: The proposed use of 11.5 acres near Hentzell Park for a new elementary school, which has already inspired a petition drive by opponents and may even wind up on the November ballot — when boardmembers are up for re-election.

Question 4) Despite all the sound and fury over the Hampden Heights property near Hentzell Park, unloading which facility could be the biggest bonanza for DPS?

Answer: The Contemporary Learning Academy, whose sale could provide a real lesson in the current real estate market.

DPS first floated its complicated consolidation/relocation and disposition plan last fall. The scheme was contingent on purchasing a fifty-year-old building at 1860 Lincoln Street at the edge of downtown, where DPS could create a shared campus that would include students from three schools along with central support staff, consolidating "multiple support facilities to better meet school needs, reduce operating costs and provide a more effective working environment." That purchase was approved in December, and the dominos started falling.

With 1860 Lincoln in the DPS portfolio, some choice real estate can go on the block. The best-known parcel is the circa 1925 (with a 1933 addition) building that now houses both the Emily Griffith high school and technical college, which occupies the entire 1200 block of Welton Street, conveniently close to the Colorado Convention Center — and the Diamond Cabaret. The plan calls for moving most of the adult-education classes from here to 1860 Lincoln, although DPS will have to find another location for the trade programs, including the auto body, auto mechanic and welding programs. The current DPS administrative building at 900 Grant Street will also be sold and the staff relocated to 1860 Lincoln. Joining them there will be staff now housed in a building at 1330 Fox Street, which has already been swapped with the City & County of Denver (which will use it as a facility for domestic-violence victims) in exchange for that parcel of land in southeast Denver at Hampden Heights, where DPS will build a new elementary school.

And then there's the Contemporary Learning Academy, an alternative DPS high school that opened more than a decade ago in the building at 2211 West 27th Avenue that once held the Farm Bureau, then the local office of USA Today; if all goes as planned, at the start of the 2014 school year, CLA students will move to a DPS facility at 780 Grant Street, leaving behind what's always been a messy maze of a school.

A messy maze, but it's now part of a deal that could change the face of Denver — a deal that could live up to the DPS slogan urging you to "Discover a World of Opportunity." Because this property sits not just on the edge of hot-hot LoHi, declared a hipster haven by that notorious hipster publication, Forbes, but at the very edge of the bluffs above the Platte Valley, a location with a stunning view that stretches from Coors Field across downtown to Mile High Stadium and Pikes Peak. (It also includes a bonus, up-close look at traffic on I-25 and Speer Boulevard — but that just means the view will never be blocked, and whoever buys the property can contract to do traffic reports for extra cash.)

According to the Board of Education "property disposition" update released at the May 16 meeting, right now DPS should be sharing plans for the CLA sale with stakeholders — including CLA students and parents, the City of Denver, local businesses and local neighborhood organizations for the areas around both 780 Grant and the CLA, and maybe even actual neighbors — in anticipation of developing a marketing plan and then listing the CLA property in late May 2013.

Which, of course, is right now. But at least developing that marketing plan shouldn't take long. Here it is:

Look out below!

Unlike Emily Griffith — whose long and beloved legacy stretches to its founding in 1916 by Emily Griffith herself, even if the school's current home is creaky and beloved by almost no one who actually uses it — the Contemporary Learning Academy is in no way, shape or form historic. It may be right down the street from the West 28th Avenue Historic District, a block of Queen Anne Victorians and even older sandstone homes known as Stoneman's Row, but the boxy CLA structure has no interesting pedigree, no charming ornamentation, no history or architecture worth fighting for. So there won't be any pesky preservationists demanding that this building be saved, as is likely to happen with Emily Griffith (a survey is now underway), or land-lovers whining about the loss of open space, since the location fronts I-25. (There could, however, be more than a few neighbors panicked about parking, because the historic block next door has no alley and no driveways...and a lot of people coming to eat and drink in this hipster haven.) Parcels not nearly as well situated have inspired mixed-residential use projects that push the zoning envelope across Highland, and the two parking lots that come with this property offer endless possibilities...a world of development opportunity.

Even without a plan for CLA, DPS notes that it has "received interest in the property from multiple parties over the past several months." It anticipates evaluating offers in August 2013, then making a recommendation to the Board of Education this fall, in time to move the students to 780 Grant the following August. For students, the new location should be a wash: The Capitol Hill spot is convenient to bus lines, too, and it has the added bonuses of nearby businesses on Sixth Avenue, rather than just two gas stations down the street and cranky neighbors a block away.

Cranky neighbors who're all crazy for the block — and have even grown fond of the high-schoolers who walk by every morning. After all, they're much more respectful than the hipsters who park here at night.

I fell in love with this block of West 28th Avenue before it became a city landmark in 1979, before it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. I'd detour past the block on my way to the original Muddy's coffeehouse on 15th Street (soon to be the home of the Tavern LoHi) just so I could see the eight ancient houses standing sentinel over the highway. And in the early '90s, when a house finally became available on the block, I jumped at the chance to buy it — leaks, creaks, spiders and all. Not that the area was jumping back then. Muddy's had moved downtown (and then disappeared altogether), the Highland neighborhood had yet to boom, and the Platte Street area just below was known for My Brother's Bar and little else. But that view...

From my back window, I watched the construction of the new Elitch Gardens Amusement Park, watched Coors Field appear on the edge of LoDo, watched the neon glow of Union Station's "Travel by Train" sign return, watched what was then Invesco Field at Mile High go up and the original Mile High Stadium come down. I watched Ocean Journey take hold, then drown in a sea of red ink, washing back up as the Downtown Aquarium. I watched new, always taller loft projects spring up in the Platte Valley and the Millennium Bridge suddenly poke out, like the prow of a ship sailing into the future. I watched the sun come up and glint off the dome of the State Capitol, then illuminate the confluence of two rivers, the spot where gold was found back in 1858. I watched more than 150 years of history spread out before me.

But nothing is set in stone these days, not even on Stoneman's Row. In 2008, DPS floated the idea of selling the property, promising the CLA that it could stay at least another year. The economic crash stretched that to six. But that same year, the Denver Landmark Preservation Commission approved delisting the oldest building in this historic neighborhood, a bungalow built in 1888 that once had dozens of siblings marching down the hill to the Platte River. Today, the corner lot where that home once stood holds a giant contemporary wonder, one that's inspired national attention and lots of neck-craning on I-25.

A block away, the CLA could soon become another contemporary wonder as a savvy developer discovers how very many units it can cram into a single property. It's a world of opportunity....

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patricia.calhoun moderator editortopcommenter

thanks for your comment, renaldo. I'd like to publish it (or some of it) in our print edition, ideally with your real name. If that's okay, e-mail me at; I'll send you the shortened version to approve. (Your original is about as long as my column -- and apparently a lot more coherent!)


Hi Patricia,

Just had lunch at Udi’s and, given the pile of Westwords in the rack and my lack of company or alternative reading material, I had the unpleasant head-scratching experience of reading another Westword article (I honestly try to avoid doing so these days). I have to warn you in advance that one of the few positive things I can say is that it was titled correctly: “Watch Out Below!” The other positive thing I can say is that it was actually legible and readable compared to most of Westword’s articles, which I guess means that neither you nor anybody else reads and edits the majority of what Westword publishes.

But getting back to the "story"…while the language was readable I couldn’t fathom how the paragraphs fit together or what the outline looked like. For that matter, I couldn’t figure out what the story was actually about. First, that you went to a (very) long Denver Public Schools meeting and came up with four cute questions and snarky answers (but doing so was not at all “hipster” of you). And only the last question seems to have anything to do with the rest of the article…though nothing in the article really addresses how the sale of the CLA property “could provide a real lesson in the current real estate market” – unless the big lesson is that a property with good views in a decent neighborhood can potentially sell for more money than an undesirable property in a bad neighborhood? Wow, who would have thought…

But the real message seems to be that you bought a house in this neighborhood before the REST of the hipsters moved in, and you want them (and all of us) to know just how cool you are and just how much you know about your neighborhood, filled with hipsters, and that you don’t consider yourself…wait for it…a hipster. But, hey, what’s more fun than reading an editor’s self-help psychiatric journal/column…Look Out Below indeed.

Anyway, I won’t bother critiquing the meaningless, incoherent paragraphs of “I was there before this happened, (when it was just My Brother’s Bar) and I was there when that happened (they built an aquarium and started renovating Union Station)”, though these well-known anecdotes certainly provide fascinating insights…. Instead I’ll skip to the next to last paragraph in which you talk about the 1880s bungalow that was delisted from the historical registry so something impressive could be built there, a “giant contemporary wonder”. What is it? Well, I guess you have to be a hipster who is familiar with the area if you want a clue as to what’s a block away from the CLA building that get’s national attention (though I thought this story was supposed to be about the CLA building…or something).

You know, there’s a big trial going on which is centered around the Anschutz Medical campus, but I guess it’s hard to find new information on the case by simply walking around your own neighborhood and going to bars and parties. And the city just repaved all the streets in Park Hill for the first time in at least fifteen years, only to have Excel come through and do millions of dollars worth of damage by tearing up block after block of the freshly paved streets less than a month later. You’d think someone at the city or Excel could have coordinated things better, but I guess when nobody in town wants to take notice it’s pretty easy to waste millions of tax dollars. Oh, but the Park Hill News (or was it Capital Hill News) DID do a story…guess their editors are a little more concerned about Denver than Westword, or maybe they don’t live in a hipster neighborhood and have to find other more important things to fill the pages of their (smaller) newspapers. 

There’s also the not-so-new non-development at 9th and Colorado, the half of badged DPD officers who White says never leave the police building, the move of DSST from Stapleton to Smiley, the Dunlap story (yeah, I know, you guys can’t write anything negative about Hickenlooper the hypocrite – “I’m running for office by putting change in other people’s parking meters…and, now that I’m in office I’m loading the town up with regressive taxes like school speeding zones that are active through rush hour, hours after all the kids are already in their seats, and by placing speeding vans on streets that have no schools and never have accidents, but which have inappropriately low speed limits)..

Then we have the final paragraph, which wraps everything up by simply making a snarky comment about “a savvy developer” making money by “however very many units it can cram into” the CLA building. Funny, I don’t remember reading about all the alternatives or why developing this property is a bad thing. In fact, wasn’t the point that selling this property was going to be an easy win for DPS?

Do people drink on the job at Westword, or was this incoherent “story” really just another self-centered piece of trash by another of Westword’s self-absorbed hipster writers?

We have a town, well, a small pond that attracts a lot of slimy fish who wouldn’t get away with nearly as much in a real city. And their presence here results in an incompetent and hypocritical local and state government, a school system that is failing from top to bottom, a dangerous police force, and one lousy “newspaper”. And, apparently, at least one fawning newspaper wannabe, as all you can do is talk about yourselves or about silly knee-jerk liberal sounding “issues”. But I guess you won’t step on any toes this way and will still get invited to all the good Christmas parties (especially when you hire the relatives of connected individuals and act like one yourself)….Did you ever consider that the reason your readers only pay attention to the drug and bar stories isn’t because they don’t care about anything else, but because you write about things no one cares about - what does a mentally handicapped homeless woman have to say about the rate at which Denver is increasing the number of available beds in town, what cool buildings have been put up in my hipster neighborhood during the last 20 years, what racist generalizations can a Mexican make about other Mexicans…fascinating and important stuff that really makes a difference. Not.

I’d love to know who has bid on the CLA property and for how much. Last time I checked DPS was a government entity and there’s a thing called an FOIA request…but yeah, that would take a little effort. So is the CLA property going to be sold at a fair price or to an insider? Who is making the decisions and on what basis? Is there an asking price? Will it be put on the open market? Oh, right, who cares as long as you don’t perceive them to be messing up your hipster neighborhood (and, darn it, Renaldo, I just explained that they won't hold the meeting they promised so Westword can't ask any questions or get any actual answers, and I just wrote a bunch of meaningless nonsense instead...). 

Actually, I re-read the piece before posting to see if I was missing something – and the best I can make out is that you think DPS should get the input of you and your old hipster neighbors before selling a standalone property for the maximum profit? Yeah, having more long meetings with self-centered know-nothings would help so much – maybe that’s why you don’t actually make that argument, or any argument, and instead just published another self-centered hipster piece (and why, after a week, nobody has cared enough to even comment).