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Long journey for help 

The thought of adding more time to the bus trip Catrina Greene faces when she treks from her home near Chelton Road and Fountain Boulevard to the Department of Human Services' headquarters makes her shudder.

"It takes me an hour and a half to two hours to get here," she said last Friday, while she and her husband were trying to obtain immediate cash help. "It would be even more of a hardship if this office was farther away."

As El Paso County officials work to close a $25 million deal next month for several buildings and a parking garage at the former Intel campus on West Garden of the Gods Road to consolidate county offices, some clients who use those offices aren't happy.

Among services on the list to make the move are three whose clientele include the poor, unemployed and medically needy: the Department of Human Services, the Pikes Peak Workforce Center and the county Department of Health and Environment.

Their current offices are at separate locations but within one to two miles of the main public bus terminal in downtown Colorado Springs. The proposed new site is about seven miles and a 30-minute bus ride away.

Tough times

Greene's world was turned upside down in July, when her husband lost the cook job he'd had for four years at a local Popeye's restaurant. Greene, a 28-year-old Colorado Springs native, suffered a back injury at her last job (she will start physical therapy soon) and has been a stay-at-home mom with the couple's year-old baby.

"We now have zero income and are trying to conserve what little money we do have and get assistance so we can pay our rent," Greene says.

In fact, to save the $1.75-per-ride bus fare, her husband, Justin Boe, walked from their home to the Pikes Peak Workforce Center on East Pikes Peak Avenue last week to job-search on the employment agency's computers. That turned into about an eight-mile hike.

"It would be a lot more strenuous and complicated for us to get to Garden of the Gods Road," he says.

In their case, the new trip might look like this, based on current bus schedules: Get on Route 1 from Fountain and Chelton at 9:17 a.m., arrive downtown at 9:37, leave downtown at 10:15 on Route 14, arrive at new county complex at 10:45. Walk to proper building for 11:30 appointment. Assume at least an hour, if not more. Return on Route 14, leaving at 1:31 p.m. and arriving downtown at 2:01, transferring to Route 1 at 2:15, returning to Fountain and Chelton at 2:45. That's 5-plus hours for a one-hour appointment, with fares costing $3.50.

But officials say the real estate plan makes sense for all concerned.

"We're trying to create a one-stop shop for getting lots of different services in one location," says County Commissioner Sallie Clark. "We've done a lot of work to make sure this is not only the best bang for the buck in terms of spending, but also consolidating would make it more convenient for the citizens."

Commissioners approved the purchase in June, but Clark says the county is still negotiating with a Los Angeles-based realty group. A report to the commissioners is expected in the next few weeks.

Relocating some county offices to the newer buildings also would provide departments with additional office space, flexibility in design and more parking, Clark adds.

The health and human services departments have surveyed clients about transportation needs. Clark says about 7 percent of DHS clients use public transportation and 93 percent arrive by car. There's no information on how many clients get rides to and/or from DHS, which would become less convenient in the new location.

"There is such a lack of parking where the office is now, that clients are getting towed on a regular basis," Clark says.

Looking ahead

At the health department, which offers numerous services from its main office at 301 S. Union Blvd., 94 percent of clients use private vehicles, according to executive director Kandi Buckland. But many services are not delivered from the headquarters, she says, such as visiting nurse and home visitation programs.

"We've had major issues with our HVAC system, which is why we need to look for a different space," Buckland says. "This one's not viable anymore, and we certainly hope a move wouldn't negatively impact any of our clients."

The city bus system runs one line every hour to the former Intel site, Mountain Metro Transit Planning Supervisor David Menter says. Current county offices are serviced by multiple nearby lines that run every 30 minutes.

Because bus service was reduced substantially due to budget cuts, no funds are available to add another line, should it become necessary, Menter says. Improvements at the area's bus stops — now just benches — could be possible to help in winter weather, he adds, but funding would have to be found.

Even some clients who don't use public transportation oppose the relocation. Breanna Trujillo, who goes to the workforce center as often as she can to look for housekeeping or fast-food jobs, says the extra miles would cost her extra gas money.

But some agree with the county's supposition that clients would come to appreciate newer, spacious facilities.

"If it would speed up the process, it'd be a good thing," says Andrey Landsey, while recently waiting at DHS. "It seems like everything is so slow it takes forever."

newsroom@csindy.com

  • Locals needing services worry about distance to buildings the county is buying.

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