Westminster’s controversial Uplands Development could be the very thing the community needs, according to school officials. “Anytime a community starts a revitalization effort, like what the …
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Westminster’s controversial Uplands Development could be the very thing the community needs, according to school officials.
“Anytime a community starts a revitalization effort, like what the Uplands is proposing, I think it serves to really lift up the community in many ways, not just the school district, but certainly the economy,” Westminster Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Pamela Swanson said.
In a contentious community debate of whether the proposed Uplands Development will benefit Westminster, Swanson said she sees it as revitalizating the community. According to the Colorado Department of Education, Westminster Public Schools’ enrollment decreased by 11.90%between 2015 and 2020. From 2020 to 2021, the number of students declined from 9,090 to 8,373.
Swanson said the development would put more students at desks but could also give teachers an opportunity to live where they teach. She noted that while many of Westminster’s teachers live within the district’s footprint, many commute far distances.
Keith Ouweneel, director of Crown Point Academy, a charter school in Westminster, said staff face similar circumstances.
“We got a lot of people driving a long way who want to work here,” Keith Ouweneel, director of Crown Point Academy, said.
Both Ouweneel and Swanson see the Uplands development as an opportunity to provide more housing for staff. And Swanson said that when teachers work near their school, it produces positives for the community.
“It helps strengthen the community as a whole because it’s our community,” Swanson said. “It’s where we live, where we work, it’s where we play.”
Uplands’ pitch to residents and council aims at building the missing middle housing for Westminster. Jeff Handlin, a developer for Uplands, explained how most of the residences within the city are single family homes and multi-family apartments and condominiums.) What’s missing, Handlin says, is everything in between: duplexes, single-family attached homes, townhomes and cottage homes. The plan also contains about 300 units of income restricted and affordable housing.
Handlin claims these types of housing are ‘built by design’ to be affordable.
Susan Daggett, a professor at the University of Denver, agrees.
“I do think that this particular project is extremely well designed to contribute to the housing supply that we desperately need, in a way that helps to provide housing for those people who are not wealthy,” Daggett said. “It allows them a possibility to get into a home that’s relatively affordable for our region, and to start building some wealth.”
Daggett conducted a semester-long class that studied the Uplands proposal and said the surrounding community may see housing prices increase. That might not be bad because one reason why housing prices have remained low is the lack of investment in that area she said.
The developers contacted Westminster Public Schools two years ago to see how they could be good neighbors to the schools, Swanson said.
Currently, the district has 13 career programs and Uplands hopes to use the development to expand them.
One integrated pathway program, called Farmland to Food Truck Entrepreneur, involves students from multiple career pathways in each step of the food system, from growing, harvesting, cooking, planning, organizing and executing.
Sandra Steiner, director of post secondary and workforce readiness for WPS, said Uplands promises to reserve space on the site for students gain experience and to help make healthy food available to the local community.
Crown Point’s Ouweneel sees three issues within his school – which sits across Federal Boulevard from the development – that Uplands will help improve: enrollment, housing for staff and safety.
Ouweneel said that if teachers and students live near the school, they can walk to school – reducing traffic.
“There’s a bus stop at corner 86 and Federal and there’s no sidewalk to that bus stop. There’s actually two bus stops and occasionally we have kids or families that are using that and it’s just super scary. Crossing federal at any time is scary, but you know, having kids cross four lanes of traffic with no light,” he said.
He thinks that the Uplands Development will bring haste to upgrades.
According to Ouweneel, Crown Point Academy consists of 50 percent of students on free or reduced lunch and about 60 percent represent a minority. Students come from all over — not just Westminster — but for the ten years Ouweneel worked at the school, he notes the lack of investment and attention given to the area.
“I haven’t seen any direct investment in this particular area other than normal maintenance,” he said.
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