In 2009, the Huerfano School District closed Washington Intermediate School, which had served students for more than 70 years.
While the children began attending another K-8 school in the community, the old Washington School site sat nearly empty. That is, until now. This week, the doors will reopen to serve a new purpose: that of community—and eventually recreation—center.
“This is so exciting,” says Cindy Campbell, LiveWell Huerfano County coordinator. “It’s a beautiful old building and it was only about 15 percent occupied with school district staff.”
As LiveWell Huerfano County began their strategic planning process in 2011 and discussions focused on the need for a community center to host cooking classes or a recreation center to encourage physical activity, Campbell often suggested the Washington School building.
The idea of using the space, though, never gained any traction until 2014. Then, a change in the school district staff, combined with the blossoming results of Campbell’s community engagement efforts and a renewed interest in building a recreation center, created the opportunity for new conversations and considerations.
“Our food access task force approached the district and asked about using the space for healthy cooking classes,” Campbell explains. “During their site visit, some of the members of the task force realized the opportunity for the space to serve the needs of the community recreation committee, as well, and asked about the potential of using the space for both purposes.”
The school district agreed to lease the entire basement area for community use. The space includes a number of rooms—to be used for weights, yoga, child care and more— a gymnasium and a kitchen. Before it could be used, however, the space needed a thorough cleaning, so LiveWell Huerfano County organized three community cleaning days.
“The response has been good,” Campbell says. “Even our newly elected county commissioner and his wife came to help.
“Now we’re trying to keep up,” she continues with a laugh. “In 24 hours, I was offered two stoves, a ping pong table and a gas fireplace.”
While they continue to look for a group or organization willing to run the day-to-day operations of the recreation offerings, the center will begin hosting a series of Cooking Matters cooking classes the first week of February. Nine families have signed up for the six-week course, which focuses on budget-friendly healthy eating by providing nutrition education along with cooking skills, Campbell says.
The coalition is working to find revenue streams to be able to allow community members to use the space free of charge and hopes to present at a county commission meeting next month, as well.
“The center isn’t huge, but it’s a start,” Campbell says. “Now we have champions in the community and hopefully, in a few years, they’ll decide they want more.”