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Cortez receives grant to buy site of old Montezuma-Cortez High School

Property to be used for a park and affordable housing
Demolition of the old Montezuma-Cortez High School started in May 2017. The city of Cortez plans to build a park on the site after the building is demolished.

On March 15 the Great Outdoors Colorado board awarded Cortez a grant that will allow the city to purchase land for a new park on the site of the old Montezuma-Cortez High School.

The $169,276 grant was one of 14 “Local Park and Outdoor Recreation” grants awarded to local government projects around the state. It will help cover the purchase price of 11 acres on the old high school site, where the city hopes to build the first full-size park on the south side of Cortez. Although the high school building is still being demolished, the city hopes to be ready to close on the purchase by the fall.

According to a news release from GOCO, the LPOR grant was highly competitive, with 59 applicants whose requests totaled more than triple the funds available from the state. Jake Houston, the GOCO local government program manager, said that with only $5.7 million in grant funds and a total of 92 grant applicants, the state had less money to award each project than it did last year. But Cortez’s project stood out, he said, because of the city’s need for a park on its south side.

“The town officials described the fact that roughly 60 percent of the population lives on the south side of town, but most of the parks are on the north side,” he said. “There was also an urgency there–it sounded like the school district, which owns that property, was looking to sell that property pretty quick.”

The purchase of land from the RE-1 School District was approved by the council earlier this year, but the contract was contingent on the city receiving the grant.

“Without the generous support of GOCO, the City wouldn’t have had the funds available for the purchase at this time,” city manager Shane Hale said in the news release.

Parks and recreation director Dean Palmquist said the purchase won’t be finalized until demolition on the old high school building is complete. That project, which began last spring, has faced several delays due to environmental hazards on the site. But once it officially owns the property, Palmquist said the city will put out a request for proposal for designers and start planning what the new park will look like. He said the city has considered building a playground, picnic shelters and many other structures in the new space.

“We think it’ll have some amenities that we have at Parque De Vida and Centennial Park,” he said. “It may have some new amenities that we don’t have at any of our parks yet.”

He said he plans to hold several “neighborhood meetings” during the design process to ask people who live nearby what they would like to see in a park.

Although the grant only pays for 11 acres, the city is purchasing the entire 14-acre property from the school district. Palmquist said the city government hopes to set aside the remaining 3 acres for a new affordable housing development, which would be built by the Housing Authority of the County of Montezuma.

Palmquist said building a park on the south side of the city has been one of his department’s top priorities since 2016. That year the city held several public meetings to ask residents what they most wanted to see built in Cortez, and Palmquist said a south side park was the top-rated outdoor recreation project.

The grant comes after another project the parks department planned for this year, an equipment upgrade for the Centennial Park playground, failed to get state funding through the Montezuma Inspire Coalition.

In Dolores County, Dove Creek also received a GOCO “mini grant” in the amount of $41,200. It will fund an upgrade for the Weber Park baseball field, including new grass seed, a sprinkler system and new infield gravel and dirt.

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