Worth the Wait
Cortez Recreation Center
By Katie Wilson
Ten years after the initial feasibility study and concept, a long-awaited multicultural community recreation center opened in January in the small southwest Colorado community of Cortez. The 46,000-square-foot center was designed as the central component of Cortez's 100-acre "Parque de Vida," or "Park of Life."
Because Cortez is the largest gateway community for Mesa Verde National Park, the new center's design embraces the symbolism of three distinct cultures that have inhabited and influenced the area: the ancient Native Americans, the Spaniards and Mexicans, and, more recently, the Anglo settlers. The profile of nearby Sleeping Ute Mountain is constructed on the east elevation from two-toned masonry. On the west side is a representation of the "Knife Edge," which is recognized as the entrance to Mesa Verde National Park. The architects chose tall, slender slit windows for the upper story of the facility to reflect the deep, ancient openings of Pueblo dwellings.
"The Cortez Recreation Center is one of the most regionally and culturally themed community centers we've completed," says Steve Blackburn, AIA, principal-in-charge for Denver-based Barker Rinker Seacat Architecture, which has designed more public recreation facilities than any other firm in the United States.
"These 10 years of planning have resulted in a dynamic blend of design at the center," Blackburn says. "We used native stone, block and stucco, and a southwestern-style entry to exhibit the Spanish influence and woven floor patterns to present the ancient symbolism inside the center."
While initial planning began in 1994, construction of the recreation center wasn't assured until Cortez citizens approved a bond issue in November 2001. The center serves the regions to the north, west and south for as far as 100 miles. Montezuma County, where Cortez is the county seat, comprises 78 percent federal and state lands including the national park, state parks, and the Navajo and Ute reservations. As a regional recreation department, the facility is expected to draw 45 percent of its patrons from the city and 55 percent from the surrounding areas.
Among Cortez Recreation Center's many amenities is a 2,600-square-foot leisure pool that features a tot slide, lazy river, interactive water play unit, zero-depth entry and a 150-foot enclosed slide. The indoor 25-meter cool water fitness pool has six lanes and a deep end for diving.
The functional design of the center revolves around a two-story space accommodating an entertainment center, fireplace and 25-foot climbing wall. From this "community living room," visitors can view the gymnasium, swim, fitness and jog/walk areas. There is an 800-square-foot activity room for children up to age 7. There are also multipurpose rooms available for conferences, weddings and other special events. A day-care drop-in program offers baby-sitting services for children whose parents are using the center.
"The Cortez Parque de Vida represents the quality of life we want for our residents," says Chris Burkett, director of the Cortez Recreation and Parks Department. "The recreation center provides us with a beautiful place to play, swim, work out, and enjoy the history and life that surrounds us."
Prior to opening, Burkett says, the center sold $35,000 worth of annual memberships. Family memberships range from $275 to about $400. A new community group, "Friends of Recreation," has formed to help raise an endowment for scholarships for individuals in the community who may be unable to pay the full charge of admission. So far, $30,000 of the $60,000 goal has been raised. To honor those that contribute to this fund, stones bearing the donors' names will be engraved and implanted in the walkway of the center's entrance.
Recreation officials hosted a grand opening event for residents, city officials and representatives of local organizations from Cortez, Mancos, Dolores, Dove Creek and Durango the last week of January.
The public—including tourists—are invited to visit the center and enjoy a refreshing splash in this new mecca in southwestern Colorado.
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