|The Community Center: Heart of the County
by Jim Reid
Joey stepped to the plate and, like Babe Ruth’s famous called home run, he pointed. “Come on Joey, let’s not do this again – you never even hit the ball!” shouted another little leaguer. But this time – smack – over the head of the center fielder, who taunted him, and down into the streets of
Thus started, so to speak, the ball rolling that ended in the development of the Gilpin County Parks and Recreation Department, which includes, of course, the Community Center.
It was the mid-1980s, and the moms of the little leaguers were tired of not having a ballfield for their kids. The lot just above Central City’s main street, where the road forms a Y with the side that today leads to the Central City Parkway – this was where Gilpin little leaguers practiced.
As relayed by Jeanne Nicholson, former Gilpin County commissioner and Colorado state senator, no Little League team could come to Gilpin to play because there was no field. So, she and other parents started making requests to the County Commissioners to find some land for a
ballfield, nothing more. The parents also asked the YMCA to come in and establish a program, but they were turned down, so it was up to the commissioners.
It was not until the 1990s that this request became feasible with the advent of gaming revenue. The County was able to purchase the property where the courthouse, jail, exhibit barn, arena, ballfield, and Community Center now reside. Twenty acres in total. Until then, the Sheriff’s department and its holding cells had been housed in the Central City Courthouse’s basement, all of which were out of compliance with state regulations.
The department needed a solution: a new jail.
So we built what is now the Justice Center. This construction added momentum to the idea of building a Community Center. Also, the Gilpin
County Recreation Advisory Board brought forth a recommendation that included not only a ballfield but also a facility housing a swimming pool that would address the community’s desire to have a place where their children could learn to swim.
The county’s population growth added impetus, growing from 3,078 in 1900 to 4,774 in 2000 – a 55% increase. Under the leadership of commissioners Web Sill, Craig Nicholson, and Ken Eye, the Community
Center took shape, along with an exhibit barn and arena. While they were three separate projects in the late 1990s, all structures, and related programs are now part of Gilpin County’s Parks and Recreation
So as the Casinos expanded and the old watering holes and meeting places in Black Hawk and Central City began to leave, these 20 acres were becoming a new focal point for the community. Parks and Recreation was growing.
The start of the 21st century marked the beginning of the Community Center construction in August 2000, and completion in May 2003. The construction contractor for the building, along with the exhibit barn and arena, was Newstrom-Davis out of Denver. Construction had an
international flair: Italian workers were flown in to install the membrane liners in the pools. So, if you take morning swims and you think you hear the pool whisper “buongiorno,” that could be the reason.
The facility spans 43,000 square feet of swimming pools, basketball courts, track, exercise equipment, weight room, dance studio, meeting rooms, ceramic studio, and locker rooms. The process of filling the pools was started in January 2003. Central City was part of this effort as they provided treated water to the Community Center. This was done to avoid undue stress on local wells.
A note of interest: the Community Center won an award for design and construction of its trusses and columns at the 34th Annual Concrete Awards hosted by the Rocky Mountain chapter of the American Concrete International in 2005.
The Community Center’s grand opening was May 31, 2003, to much fanfare. Local artists provided free demonstrations; one was Gail Watson, a future county commissioner. Initial programs for adults included oil painting, belly dancing, summer gardening, fishing clinics,
martial arts, and lifeguard training. Youth programs included gymnastics, martial arts, Spanish lessons, soccer, hockey, and of course Little League baseball and softball.
Through the early years, Parks and Recreation with its Community Center grew into the focal point it is today for the hard-working families of Gilpin County. Shortly after opening, the Community Center hosted the 13th annual County Fair, with a rodeo, 35 craft booths, an art show, and 15 food booths. From a gourmet culinary perspective, there were deep fried Twinkies – ah, they knew how to cook back then!
The County Fair is also now part of the Department of Parks and Recreation. Legend has it that there was a prediction that the Community Center, along with Parks and Recreation, would become an integral part of the community. The facility holds the County Fair each year, the
annual Father-Daughter dance, Easter egg hunts, a ceramic program entering its 20th year, after-school youth programs, summer youth programs, and the Winter Arts Festival. Also, of importance, a Veteran’s Memorial was established in 2005 in front of the Community Center.
The Gilpin Parks and Recreation Department, Community Center, exhibit hall, and arena continue their mission today, serving Gilpin County. With a mill levy on the ballot this November, this writer thought it might be helpful to folks to have some background on Gilpin’s Parks and
Recreation department and the Community Center. The first sentence of Ballot Issue 1A states that the mill levy is to fund Gilpin’s Parks and
Recreation. It is not about a building; it is about a constellation of programs and functions that Parks and Recreation delivers to the county.
Jim Reid is an active member of the Pottery Guild at the Gilpin County Community Center. To create this article, he researched past records of the Center and talked with officials involved at the time of its creation. Jim is a long-time Gilpin resident and past vice-president of Friends of the Gilpin County Community Center.
The Gilpin County Community Center is located at 250 Norton Drive, Black Hawk.
A Center of Health, Social Interaction, and Resources
The Gilpin County Community Center is a critical piece of infrastructure in the county. Many residents rely on the facilities within the campus to meet their social, community, recreational, and educational needs.
The community center campus contains two main buildings. One contains an indoor pool, track, gymnasium, weight rooms, and various other fitness-related amenities. It also has meeting rooms, a pottery studio, an affordable drop-in childcare facility, and offices. These facilities enable swimming lessons, low-impact exercises, indoor team sports, as well as yoga, dance classes, and other activities.
In addition, the multi-purpose room is used for meetings, meet-and-greets, senior lunches, quilting and sewing group get-togethers. The main gymnasium is used for league sports, as well as social events as the High Country Auxiliary Chili Dinner and Silent Auction, Daddy-Daughter Dance, and the December Winter Arts Festival.
The other main building at the Community Center Campus is the Barn. It contains an indoor arena, plus offices for the Colorado State University Gilpin County Extension program. The university provides classes and programs that offer information on forestry, wildfire, wildlife, mountain gardening, noxious weeds, and many other issues relevant to the region.
The facilities also host the Gilpin County Fair, which takes place each summer. The fair uses the outdoor space within the campus as the fairgrounds, and the exhibit barn and outdoor arena are used for events such as 4H shows and rodeos. The fair, which offers free parking, entry, and rides, is a major attraction within the county and one of the largest events to take place within the community campus.
The Pete Gones Memorial Park ballfields are the third component of the Gilpin County Community Center campus. They are heavily used for softball, soccer, and other events throughout much of the year.
The Heart of our Community
The Gilpin County Community Center is more than a rec center. It’s a critical piece of infrastructure in the county that many, many Gilpinites of all ages use and love it. For more information about the Center, visit the county’s Web site and click on the “Community Center” tab.