Update, November 8: 2E passed with 70.72 percent of the vote, and 2F passed with 71.39 percent of the vote.
On November 7 — or now, if you vote by mail-in ballot — Denver residents will decide if they want to approve nearly a billion dollars’ worth of bond measures, the heftiest general obligation bond proposal in the city’s history.
The GO Bond package, billed as “a plan to repair and improve Denver’s infrastructure,” is broken up into seven categories, labeled 2A through 2G: transportation and mobility systems; cultural facilities, which include the city’s biggest museums, the Denver Botanic Gardens, the Denver Zoo and the Denver Center for the Performing Arts; Denver Health, which would get a $75,000,000 outpatient ambulatory center; the public-safety system, which would improve and replace some police headquarters and fire stations; libraries; parks and recreation; and the public facilities system. They are listed individually on the ballot, so that voters can pick and choose.
Denver started using bonds in the 1940s to pay for projects like airports, hospitals, recreational facilities and public libraries. In the nearly seventy years that the city has taken bond measures before voters, only one proposal — a $325,000,000 justice-center bid in 2001 — was rejected. The last bond project, the $549,730,000 Better Denver Bond Program, passed in 2007. Some projects are still in the works. (You can track their progress at denver.org.)
The GO Bond’s boosters have touted the fact that approving the measure won’t raise property-tax rates; the city has seen an increase in property values, which allows for the new debt of $937 million without triggering an increase to tax rates, says Courtney Law, communications director at the Department of Finance.
After numerous committees submitted their wish lists, Denver City Council unanimously approved the final GO Bond project that’s on the ballot. There is no formal campaign against it, and the Denver Elections Division reports receiving just a handful of complaints from residents. Meanwhile, Our Denver, the formal campaign for the GO Bond, raised $2,191,428.72 through October 5 and is filling the airwaves and mailboxes with advertisements hyping the GO Bond components. “We need ’em all,” says Mayor Michael Hancock in a TV ad.
But while the bond proposal is supposed to be forward-thinking, many projects would address problems created by recent history, such as Denver’s exploding population over the past ten years and the opioid crisis. The whole package also raises philosophical questions about Denver’s future and how, exactly, we’ll get there, down to the dollar.
To see where Denver might be headed, we examined some of the projects included in the GO Bond. We'll roll out our stories about the Bond all week. Here, we examine 2E and 2F.
2E: The Library Is Denver’s Largest Day Center. Just Don’t Call It That.
City Librarian Michelle Jeske says that employees of the Central Library, the system’s largest, don’t like to call it a day center. “We like to think we offer more than that,” she says. But she knows that the library’s services are exactly what make it appealing to Denver’s most vulnerable populations. The Central Library offers computers, respite from the elements, and two social workers who help visitors navigate everything from the city’s homeless shelters to the DMV.
Some 2,800 people use the facility every day, with almost a million visits a year. With so much foot traffic, the Central branch is susceptible to problems that come in off the streets...even problems that seem worlds away from the quiet confines of a library. Earlier this year, Westword reported that the Central branch saw six opioid overdoses in the first three months of 2017 alone. The day staffers got Narcan, a nasal spray that reverses opioid overdoses, it was used on a visitor.
In a way, it was good that the press caught wind of the Central branch’s ongoing woes in March, just as city leaders were preparing to hash out details of the GO Bond, says Jeske. Although safety improvements were already on the library’s own list of needs, the shocking headlines about the overdoses “clearly helped send a message to other people in the city that renovation was needed in this building,” she explains. Still, the Central Library’s $38,000,000 chunk of the bond would only be enough to cover the first phase of the library’s remodeling plans.
Those plans include moving the security team from the basement to the Broadway entrance to improve response time to emergencies, expanding the children’s area and moving it closer to the security team, getting rid of the escalators and installing one large staircase accessible from each of the four floors, and renovating some of the bathrooms. Bookshelves would be lowered to allow for more visibility, and the children’s plaza on the northwest side of the building would become an event venue that would generate additional revenue.
Jeske hopes the 23-year-old building, created by famed architect Michael Graves, will one day gain historic designation. But first it has to weather the next few decades, during which it will require such un-sexy updates as new plumbing.
“We’ve always had a somewhat limited problem of things that end up in your plumbing system that shouldn’t be there,” says library spokesman Chris Henning. “That can be anything from children’s toys to syringes.” — Ana Campbell
2F: Why Are Three Pools Splitting $38 Million?
Denver isn’t exactly known as a swimmer’s paradise, but three pools — proposed indoor facilities for the Swansea and Green Valley Ranch recreation centers, and the outdoor pool in Congress Park — would share $38 million from the parks and recreation system bond.
Though many are only open for twelve weeks, John Martinez, deputy executive director of recreation, says that Denver’s pools are among the parks and recreation department’s most popular attractions. And most of the older pools, built in the ’50s and ’60s, need a complete overhaul; Congress Park’s pool is leaking water. “We have been approaching that pool with a band-aid,” says Martinez. Like much of the money in the GO Bond measures, the $8.3 million going to the Congress Park pool would pay for back-end equipment — things like a new filtration system, which would be far bigger than the system at a residential pool, and much costlier. It would also receive a new deck.
Should this bond pass, the sixty-year-old Swansea Rec Center pool, which is currently outdoors, would move inside, adding about 20,000 square feet to the rec center as a whole. At Green Valley Ranch, a new indoor pool would be put inside. This project has been a long time coming; the neighborhood wanted an indoor pool included in the last citywide bond ballot, in 2007, but it didn’t make the cut.
“These amenities that we’re getting in the bond will really help communities that have been excluded from amenities that neighborhoods like Wash Park and City Park have been enjoying for close to 100 years,” says Scott Gilmore, deputy executive director of Denver Parks and Recreation.
Those amenities would include Re-Imagine Play in Paco Sanchez Park near Sun Valley, a $6,500,000 project that would be one of the nicest playgrounds in the country, says Gilmore. The bond money would cover the second phase of construction, which includes a quarter-mile loop overlooking Lakewood Gulch, development of an outdoor venue for movie showings or concerts, and the Community Plaza, intended as a gathering area for neighbors.
And after years of waiting, Westwood would get its own recreation center.
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“People might think this is about gentrification,” says Councilman Paul Lopez of the Westwood rec center. “But this is about leveling the playing field.”
Among the smaller projects in the parks and rec bond is $2 million for restoration of Denver’s CCC Camps, built in the ’30s and ’40s. The Civilian Conservation Corps was a work-relief program that was part of the New Deal; the men who lived in the CCC Camp in Morrison built Red Rocks, among other projects along the Front Range. Those were only supposed to last fifteen years, but they still stand more than seventy years later.
Although $2 million wouldn’t be enough to fully restore both projects, it’s a jumping-off point, says Gilmore. The sites would eventually serve as educational facilities, teaching children about history and instructing them in such trades as electrical and carpentry. — Ana Campbell