Of all the prominent community leaders trying to help Colorado Springs toward a brighter future, Pam Shockley-Zalabak appears to be leading the way on forward-thinking ideas.
Heading into the stretch run of her brilliant tenure as chancellor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, the widely respected, 68-year-old dynamo is not content with what she already has accomplished. All those new academic buildings, the school's first dormitories (two built, with two more under construction), major strides toward becoming a renowned research university, and adding a branch of the University of Colorado School of Medicine — Shockley-Zalabak clearly has distinguished herself as the best chancellor in UCCS' four-plus decades of existence.
But she wants more, to make our city's state-supported university able to handle its projected 15,000 on-site students (plus 2,000 more online) by 2020. And though the state might help a little, most funding — which could surpass $100 million — will have to come from local sources.
Anyone who heard Shockley-Zalabak's presentation last week at the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance luncheon had to be impressed. She laid out the expected growth and economic-impact numbers, outlined what already has been done, then added in another theme of wanting UCCS to reach North Nevada Avenue with facilities that also would have an impact on the larger community.
The plan includes a large project for the visual and performing arts, with a good-sized auditorium to serve the campus and public. There's also a sports complex on the drawing board with a high-altitude track/soccer field/stadium (perhaps 4,000 to 5,000 seats), all built with the capability of high-level research that should match up well with the U.S. Olympic Committee's needs. Finally, there's an academic building tied with the university's goal to develop its health-related presence, able to handle medical students as well as more room for sports-related research.
In a real sense, Shockley-Zalabak's package of proposals sounds like what you'd get from a big-time employer wanting to increase its local clout — which is completely fitting. Her vision for UCCS should have instant appeal to business and political decision-makers wanting to diversify the local economy. They also should realize the value of a superb local university to the region as a whole in enhancing the efforts to bring in more large companies.
Here's another idea for UCCS to consider, aligning with Shockley-Zalabak's previously expressed desire to connect more with the downtown area. Most of the talk so far has centered around having far more transit service between the main campus and downtown, which makes total sense. But that bus service could serve an additional purpose.
We've heard about School District 11's tough choice to close Wasson High School (see p. 14), which could drag down that school's entire surrounding area. But what if D-11 could sit down quickly with UCCS and pursue a new idea: Keep Wasson open, but turn Palmer High School into a branch of UCCS? That would bring college students by the thousands to downtown, and given the proximity to the Olympic Training Center as well as Memorial Hospital, the sports-related facilities at Palmer also could become more valuable.
Such a change might be unsettling for those clinging to history — Palmer was the original Colorado Springs High School — but it certainly would be better than abandoning Wasson. And bringing more college students downtown would accelerate the already-developing plans for more affordable housing, mostly apartments, inside the city's core. Just look at how downtown campuses have made a difference in other Western cities, from Denver to Portland to Tucson, and that should provide more inspiration.
Somebody would have to facilitate all this, but that's what Shockley-Zalabak already is doing so well. If she can make all of her plans happen, and possibly more downtown, UCCS will become a permanent, influential pillar of Colorado Springs' future.
We might have to find creative ways to pay for much of it, but no investment could have a better payback.