Evicted Again 

Deal offers reprieve for peace group, historic firehouse

Members of the Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission aren't happy that they're about to lose their offices. But at least, thanks to their efforts, their current home won't be bulldozed.

Earlier this year, the organization learned it was about to be evicted from its offices at 29 S. Institute St., a former city fire station owned since 1972 by Penrose-St. Francis Hospital. The property was being sold to local investor Ronn Langford, who is considering building commercial office space or possibly townhomes.

The Justice and Peace Commission, which seeks to promote social justice and nonviolence through advocacy and outreach, has only rented the space since 1999, when it was kicked out of its old headquarters at Weber Street and Fountain Boulevard. At that time, the organization signed a seven-year lease with Penrose-St. Francis, paying a symbolic $1 per year in rent.

"This is our second eviction in three years," lamented Dorothy Schlaeger, the organization's director.

But what was even worse was that the historic firehouse, built in 1909, was to be demolished. Langford wasn't interested in the building itself, only in the property, and his intention was to raze the structure. "It has no architecture," Langford said in an interview. "There's no way to use the building."

That prospect horrified members of the Justice and Peace Commission, who had put at least $40,000 into restoring the building before moving in. "It goes against all our values to just demolish a perfectly sound building," said Jean Ferguson, a member of the group.

The organization was also faced with having to find a new home by the middle of this month, when the sale was to be finalized.

Last month, the organization sought to stop the demolition by asking the city's Historic Preservation Board to designate the firehouse as a historic structure. Though the board was reluctant to issue a designation, its discussions led to a compromise being worked out among Penrose-St. Francis, Langford and another group that wants to preserve the building -- the Friends of the Dr. Lester L. Williams Fire Museum.

The nonprofit museum group wants to move the old firehouse from its current location and place it next to the city's Fire Operations Center at 375 Printers Parkway, where the group already operates a fire museum.

Langford and Penrose-St. Francis agreed to postpone their closing date until next June, giving the museum group time to raise money for the move.

"It's not going to be cheap; it's not going to be easy," said the group's president, Ray Turner. He estimates it will cost at least $100,000. The group plans to seek historic-preservation grants and to launch a fund-raising campaign.

"It's a historic building, and we'd like to save it," Turner said. "If we don't get it moved, it's going to be torn down."

The deal has also bought the Justice and Peace Commission some time. It now has until April to vacate the building. If it doesn't find a new permanent home by then -- which members say is unlikely -- Penrose St. Francis has agreed to provide a space on the main hospital campus, across the street, for the remainder of the seven-year lease.

Schlaeger says her organization plans to launch a fund-raising drive to establish a relocation fund. After two evictions, the group wants to own its next home, she says.

In the meantime, the organization is pleased that the old firehouse may also find a new home, she says. "We're happy that the building is going to be saved."

-- Terje Langeland


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