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It's quiet ... too quiet 

Deadline to bid on community centers passes with little fanfare, and few obvious reasons for optimism

Considering that Colorado Springs' budget problems have become a national spectacle — and a big, fat embarrassment — you might think the city would be eager for a little good press on the solutions it's cooking up.

Apparently not.

The city has refused to disclose how many organizations have applied to take over a city community center — four are scheduled to close March 31 due to funding cuts — saying that doing so would ruin its negotiating power.

But that hasn't muzzled the rumors. According to many in the know, Woodmen Valley Chapel is looking to continue the operations at Westside Community Center. Apparently, Woodmen would help cover the costs of the three-building center at 1628 W. Bijou St., while turning Westside's underused middle building into an outreach center for the needy.

Woodmen representatives would not comment this week. But if the rumors are true, Westside would likely stay open.

The other three centers may not be so lucky. While concerned neighborhoods are working hard to raise money through various means, the city's application process was expected to attract bigger players — organizations that might be able to fully cover the costs of at least one center. And according to sources, no one's come a-callin' about Hillside, Deerfield Hills or Meadows Park.

"The families are every day coming in and asking us what the current status of things are, and everyone's nervous and doesn't want to see the doors closed," says Deerfield program coordinator Jody Derington.

For a while, it was thought that Boulder-based Phoenix Multisport, an athletic program for recovering alcoholics, was interested in a center. A representative confirmed that the company is interested in expanding into Colorado Springs this year, but said it is still doing fund-raising. It didn't apply with the city.

The Housing Authority of the City of Colorado Springs briefly considered using some of its funding to keep Hillside going, before realizing it was a fiscal impossibility. Instead, the Housing Authority is weighing whether it may be able to fund the city's Senior Center starting in 2011. The Senior Center is funded through the end of this year.

So for now, Hillside, Deerfield Hills and Meadows Park are putting their hope elsewhere: in their own grassroots work; in the business plan being drafted for them by the local branch of SCORE, a nonprofit that helps small businesses; and in the members of City Council, who could choose to extend their funding.

Vice Mayor Larry Small says he's hoping his colleagues will consider buying the centers more time.

"I feel that we have an obligation to participate in the solution," he says.

Brian Kates, facility director of Westside and Meadows Park, says the centers want to cooperate with city leaders in any way they can. He and other centers' administrators have worked together to slash their budgets by hundreds of thousands of dollars, hoping a slimmer bottom line might be more appealing to Council. (The cuts would mean fewer hours of operation and greater reliance on volunteers.) He says SCORE has told him that achieving full self-sufficiency for the centers could take three to five years.

"We just need the city to work with us," he says. "We'll write the grants. We'll reduce overhead expenses."

stanley@csindy.com

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