The Pueblo West View

Top news stories of 2013

It doesn’t seem that long ago that Pueblo West residents were celebrating the end of 2012 with the hope that 2013 would bring good cheer into the area.

And for the most part, 2013 was a good year.

Pueblo West focused on bringing in more recreational opportunities to town, including building the first phase of its first town center and taking a deep, hard look at the state of the roads, improving streets slowly.

Residents faced recall elections over heated strict gun laws, new businesses coming and going and construction of school and athletic fields courtesy of a bond initiative that passed in 2012. Others also recognized a rash of crime sprees in Pueblo West which resulted in teenage arrests from burglaries to murder charges.

The Pueblo West Metropolitan District Board of Directors remained steadfast in their own workings with parks and recreation.

•••

At a young age, Dan Centa watched as the Pueblo West community was started, then grew what it is today. He’s excited to now be a part of its future as it continues to expand and improve.

Centa started as the Pueblo West Director of Public Works in early January. He brings with him a large amount of experience, along with the desire to add value to the community.

“I want to continue to bring improvements to Pueblo West,” he said. “I want to continue to see quality improvements to the community and help continue to establish that sense of community.”

Centa wasn’t necessarily looking for the job here. Instead, it found him. And it was a winding route that got him to Pueblo West.

Born and raised in Pueblo, Centa began working for the City of Pueblo in 1971. He was the City Traffic Engineer for more than 20 years, and then the Director of Transportation. While he was there, several other Public Directors left jobs through retirement and other various reasons, so Centa eventually took on some of those responsibilities as well.

In 2008, he retired as the Director of Pueblo Works for Pueblo. But during that year, the then-president of PEDCO (Pueblo Economic Development Corporation) asked Centa to consider applying for the president position. He agreed, and served three years.

“It was a delightful organization to work for,” Centa said. “They’re very passionate about the community.”

In 2011, he told his co-workers he would retire at the end of the year, leaving them time to find a replacement. That’s when “an amazing number” of people suggested he run for public office. Because he lives outside the city limits, City Council was out of the question.

That brought on Centa’s run for County Commissioner, which took the bulk of his time in 2012. Around Christmastime, Centa was again approached with a different job suggestion.

It was a big decision. After all, Centa had retired – twice – and he said running a large campaign was tiring for both him and his family. But he thought it over, and having knowing Johnston through work for many years, Centa decided to come on board with Pueblo West.

“Really, I wanted to do this as a means to mentor, give someone an opportunity to grow into the position,” Centa said. “And hopefully I can bring some insights to the job.”

Centa said although his Public Works job isn’t economic development-related, he hopes his recent past experience with PEDCO can help him bring something extra to Pueblo West.

“I wasn’t hired for it, but hopefully I can bring some ideas and simply allow for broader development in Pueblo West,” he said.

Already in his first few weeks on the job, Centa said he sees there are a huge number of infrastructure needs in the community, but knows there are limited funds, resources and staff to work with.

He noted there are nearly 400 miles of roads within Pueblo West, and about half of those are gravel, which require a lot of maintenance.

Also of a big concern to Centa is storm water drainage. He said recent studies have identified areas in Pueblo West that will need to meet Federal Clean Water Act requirements, and will require significant improvements.

•••

The idea of building a state-of-the-art sports complex in Pueblo West initially seemed like a good idea, but for board members on the Pueblo West Metropolitan District, the cost was just too much to bare.

“Based on the bids, I can no longer support this project,” said Mike French, president of the Pueblo West Metropolitan District Board of Directors. “It’s a dead issue.”

The lowest bid for the Soaring Eagles Sports Complex came in at $2.2 million by Mass Service Supply, which was about $1 million over budget for the district, according to the 2013 proposed budget.

“Unfortunately, good ideas don’t always come at the best times,” said Jack Johnston, district manager for the Pueblo West Metropolitan District.

However, that doesn’t mean the metropolitan district plans to nix recreational fields altogether.

An alternative plan cropped up that includes working together with School District 70 on “a broader, deeper collaborate” plan, Johnston said.”If we invest in a partnership with D70, they can help us in a variety of ways,” Johnston said.

Voters in November approved a $59 million bond issue that would include adding fields and an auditorium at Pueblo West High School, and designs for that project currently are in motion, and if Pueblo West decides to team with the school district, those decisions need to be made quickly, said Ryan Elarton with Pueblo County School District 70.

“Our fields are highly used,” Elarton said. “We’d be hard pressed not finding fields with something going on.”

Options include increasing the size of track fields to accommodate soccer or softball fields at two of the elementary schools, but Cedar Ridge Elementary School is not fit for an adult-size field.

However, the fields at two elementary schools are not available for adult use because they are “landlocked and too short,” Johnston said.

Skyview Middle School has the ability to expand and create fields the metropolitan district can use for those adult programs but “we need to run some more numbers first and see about shifting youth (programs) from Lovell Field because they are adults fields to the elementary (school) fields,” Johnston said.

But the timeline is a factor. The school district is in its phasing process, and the fields are expected to be built at the end of May and ready to go the first part of August, Elarton said.

“I see this as a window of opportunity,” said Lew Quigley, Pueblo West Metropolitan District Board of Directors member. “The citizens support the bond issue, and we need a recreational facility within this community so the citizens are better served.

It belongs to the people who live here, and I think we need to be collectively cooperative about it.”

“It’s unfortunate that this didn’t happen a year ago,” said Bill Vickers, Pueblo West Metropolitan District Board of Directors member.

•••

While the Soaring Eagles Sports Complex died, the much-anticipated Civic Center Park project was approved with additions in place.

A skateboard park and splash park might become part of the Civic Center Park plan but further down the line in phases three or four, if budgets constraints don’t prevent it.

The cost to add a splash park and skateboard park could be around $489,000, but Pueblo West Metropolitan District officials cautioned board members with concerns about the addition, especially with the pending 2014 convergence with revenues and expenses in the budget and potential future projects that may or may not receive grant funding.

“I think we need to go forward on it,” said Bill Vickers, Pueblo West Metropolitan District Board of Directors member. “We haven’t spent any money on recreation in 20 years.

“I hate to quit now.

“We’re just going to have to learn to live within our budget at some point.”

Other board members agreed.

“If we’re going to do it, let’s do it right. The recreation end has been overlooked for years,” said Pueblo West Metropolitan District Board of Directors member Jerry Martin.

“If we don’t do things now, we don’t do them,” said Lew Quigley, Pueblo West Metropolitan District Board of Directors member. “I hesitate to say no.”

•••

Pueblo West faced a number of crime sprees in 2013 that ranged from teenagers shooting an overabundant amount of mailboxes to attempted murder charges against two teenage boys.

A 34-year-old Pueblo West woman was the target of a shooting one early Sunday morning that resulted in the arrest of two teenage boys.

Devin Riensch, 16, arrested Tuesday, and 17-year-old Evan Hesselberg, arrested Monday, are charged with attempted first degree murder, felony burglary, felony assault, and criminal mischief.

Someone had knocked on the door of the family home at around 2 a.m., and when Cheryl Gonzales went to answer, she was shot several times through the door, said Lisa Shorter, public information officer with the Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office.

Gonzalez sustained multiple gunshot wounds, and she was transported to a local hospital.

No one else in the home was injured.

“This was an intended target,” Shorter said. “It was not random. They targeted her.”

The 17-year-old boy arrested for crimes related to the shooting was booked into Pueblo Youth Center.

He is charged with first degree attempted murder and multiple other felonies in the case.

Four other arrests have been made that are not necessarily related to the shooting allegations but are related to other criminal activity revealed during the investigation, Shorter said.

“The more we’re investigating, the more things are coming to the surface,” Shorter said.

A motive in the case is attempted drug theft, and two of the arrests are for possession of illegal substances with the other two arrests for outstanding warrants.

“We know that two shooters stood at point blank range and fired through the door with semi-automatic rifles,” said Pueblo County Sheriff Kirk M. Taylor. “We’ve done three search warrants on three properties and recovered two semi-auto rifles we believe that were used.”

He said that detectives have worked the case nonstop.

They’ve conducted 30 interviews with witnesses and persons of interest that led to arrests of individuals wanted on unrelated warrants.

“This investigation goes up to a burglary in Westcliffe. We recovered most of the stuff stolen out of that burglary and as you can see, the investigation has broadened,” Taylor said.

More arrests are expected.

Detective interviewed more than 30 people possibly connected to the case and served search warrants on three homes in Pueblo County.

The shooting where a woman was shot through a door has evolved into a complex case, Taylor said.

“Violent crime is rare in Pueblo County already, but to know this incident was premeditated and these suspects planned to shoot our victim without regard for what the young children in the home would witness or their future is certainly a motivating factor for our team,” Taylor said.

“As a whole, we haven’t stopped working this shooting since the second the 9-1-1 call came in.”

•••

In February, school officials met with architects, hosted contractors and began planning for the changes that were on the horizon. Changes for most of the schools included creating secure entryways at the front doors, adding classrooms to replace modular units and more.

“The school board has been great about all of this, giving direction that local contractors should be hired so that the millions (of dollars) from this bond issue are staying in our community and putting people to work,” said Liberty Point International Principal Brian Dilka in February. “This is all exciting.”

•••

Walker Perry, a freshman at Swallows Charter Academy (then Southern Colorado Early College) won top honors in the Kick the Can youth essay contest. His essay encouraged people to avoid sugary sodas and explored the ways unhealthy beverages are marketed.

Perry won first place in the 13- to 15-year-old category. The Kick the Can contest is part of the Kick the Can website, maintained by Dr. Harold Goldstein, executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy. The essay contest is an outlet for teens to “take a stand against soda companies that are selling out the health of youth to make a buck.”

Another local student – Liberty Point Elementary fifth grader Ernie Chavez – got noticed by his classmates in March when he participated in the St. Baldrick’s fundraiser for cancer.

He had his head shaved at the Pixie Inn in Pueblo.

He’d been growing his hair for many months so there would be lots to cut off.

This is the second time Chavez has participated in St. Baldrick’s, a national even in which “shavees” ask friends and family to make donations, and in return the shavee attends an event and has their hair shaved off to support children who are fighting cancer.

DECA students at Pueblo West High School had yet again another very strong showing at the annual state competition, held at the Broadmoor Feb. 24-26.

Pueblo West High School had one of the largest contingents of competitors, qualifying 90 students for state. And in one of the school’s most successful years, 11 students qualified for the national conference as well.

“We had a great year,” said B.J. Kingsbaker, who co-sponsors DECA with Tony Linkowski.

“We had several kids that moved onto nationals, which is quite an accomplishment because it’s basically the top five kids per event, no matter the size, and some of these events have 70 kids in them.”

For the first time in school history, Pueblo West High School allowed a few freshmen to compete in DECA (in the past it’s always been open to sophomores and up), but a few students from the school’s speech team took part in DECA, and found success.

Kyle York became the first freshman state finalist in school history.

Speech and debate students at PWHS also had a banner year, by far the best in school history.

Two school records were recently shattered – six individuals qualified for the National Speech and Debate tournament (the previous record was three), and 18 students qualified for the State Tournament, when the old record was 13 students.

•••

Pueblo County School District 70 school board members approved changes in late spring to consolidate all grades – kindergarten through 12th – under the singular name of Swallows Charter Academy. The name change for the high school program was part of the new five-year contract for the school

“A lot of people already refer to it as the high school at Swallows,” said Cindy Compton, SCA Director. “This contract just allows us to operate everything under one name.”

The other notable change to the contract renewal with District 70 is an allowance for Swallows to increase the number of students in elementary grade levels. A second class of kindergarten and first graders was added (bringing the total to 44 students per grade). As those classes advance during the coming years, those grades will double in size, filling the school’s total enrollment goals of having 44 students per grade level.

Skyview Middle School introduced at STEM class in the fall, and students are eating up the science, technology, engineering and math it incorporates. The students do things like an AutoCAD-type program to work on three-dimensional imaging, using the schools 3-D printer to create small objects and building (and launching) model rockets.

•••

Schools in Pueblo West looked different thanks to the construction that took place while students were away. LPE, Liberty Point International and Sierra Vista Elementary were reconfigured to create safe entranceways.

Plans for a more secure entrance for Pueblo West High School were still in the works, since the remodel will be extensive to relocate the office at the front of the school.

The Pueblo Association for Advanced Learners (PAAL) became official September 1 after it was approved by the Colorado Association for Gifted and Talented (CAGT), of which PAAL is the local affiliate.

“This organization, really from the get-go, is to offer a place for parents and teachers to go as an advocacy source. A place for comfort and support and for advanced learners to come together,” President Kristyl Boies said.

The idea came back in 2010 when the president of CAGT asked Boies if she might consider starting an affiliate in Pueblo because there’d never been such a resource. She began talking to others, through word-of-mouth, email and networking and got “nothing but positive feedback. Teachers and parents were hungry for help and information.

•••

Baccalaureate programs throughout Pueblo West took place during 2013. Beginning in the fall of 2013, all incoming freshman at Pueblo West High School were required to take one year of a foreign language, a step that the school took to meet IB Middle Years Program requirements and stay in-line with Colorado Higher Education recommendations.

Nicole Melster, the IB MYP Coordinator, went before the District 70 School Board in the fall and asked for graduation requirements at Pueblo West High School to be changed to include the requirement of foreign language.

“We started researching, and Colorado Higher Education standards are one year of foreign language anyway,” Melster said.

“We felt it would be good to be consistent with that, and to follow the MYP requirements. Those require students to take a foreign language.

The MYP, which is a collaborative effort between Liberty Point International and Pueblo West High School (the program goes through 10th grade), is being implemented in small steps at both schools. Application paperwork was submitted in the fall for a hopeful approval of the program in the spring of 2014.

At the high school level, many students began exploring a world of opportunities in the fall after International Baccalaureate classes became available to upperclassmen without the requirement to be enrolled in the complete IB diploma program.

Students can choose as many courses as they want to take of IB, freeing up the schedule for some students who want to pursue other offerings or giving students the availability to take advanced courses in their favorite subjects.

Students can choose to take one or more IB courses, and if enrolling in individual courses (not the diploma program as a whole), they must also take the test.

The tests are $250 each, but a passing grade on a test can mean as many as six college credits, so the cost is well worth it.

And over at Desert Sage Elementary School, the process of applying to become an IB Primary Years Program is underway, with teachers writing, teaching and assessing the six units within the PYP program.

Marching band members at Pueblo West High School made history, placing in the overall competition at the Colorado State Fair parade in the fall. The group finished fourth overall, against marching bands from both 4A and 5A schools.

“Those are much bigger than us,” said Patrick Smith, Pueblo West High School band director.

“So that was very cool. A first for us. And we also placed third in our division (4A).”

The band has steadily increased in size and was up to 85 members this fall.

At the annual District 9 competition for DECA students, Pueblo West High School made a splash by earning first place in 11 or 17 total events, and sweeping four of those events with first, second and third place finishes.

Overall, 59 students qualified for the state DECA competition, which will be in late February.

In district competition, Pueblo West High School competes against County High School and Pueblo School District 60 schools, as well as Lamar High School, with about 625 students overall this year.

•••

In the community, a new music class for young children got many families excited. Kathryn Palmer brought Music Together to the Pueblo area, after teaching it for five years on the Western Slope.

At the Prairie Song Music Together center in Pueblo West, children from birth to 5 years of age engage in songs, rhythmic rhymes, movement and instrument play alongside their parents or caregivers.

The Pueblo West Metro District spent lots of time during the summer replacing light bulbs to LED – a change that will shave more than $25,000 a year off the annual budget.

The total cost to replace all of the bulbs within the district is $197,500.

The district’s portion is $149,500 and was planned for in the year’s budget. The remaining balance is being funded by rebates from Black Hills Energy and a few from San Isabel Electric Association.

A new state-of-the-art facility for Snap Fitness opened in Pueblo West in September, with an official grand opening in mid-December.

The new building, which is about three times the size of the previous location, includes a “virtual classroom” with on demand classes that can be utilized 24 hours a day, as well as much, much more.

After six years in Pueblo West, Snap Fitness had outgrown its old location, so it was logical to build a new building that could bring in so many more new options, including the virtual classroom. It is the only of its kind in southern Colorado.

In December, the Parkview-Pueblo West Emergency Services facility celebrated its five-year anniversary in style with a large open house, flu shot clinic, treats and more.

Attendees of the open house could get inexpensive flu shots, tour the facility, partake in yummy treats and even visit with Santa. Experts from injury prevention, stroke and AMR were also on hand to answer questions.

The Pueblo West facility opened on November 2008 and has been treating Pueblo West and the surrounding communities for five years, in steadily increasing numbers.

In the past year alone, the facility has treated 740 patients with chest pain, 38 stroke patients and admitted 1,400 patients to Parkview Medical Center.

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