Think the wheels of justice turn slowly? At 10 a.m. today, Denver Public Schools will dedicate the Joe Shoemaker School, an elementary school that opened last month as the Hampden Heights Expeditionary School at 3333 South Havana Street, at the edge of southeast Denver. Meanwhile, a request to return nine acres of land beneath that school to the City of Denver is still in the Court of Appeals.
Construction of the school started in January 2014 on property that that had been part of the Hampden Heights Open Space, next to Paul A. Hentzell Park. That land was swapped by Denver with DPS in a complicated 2013 deal that also involved DPS turning over a building at 1330 Fox Street, which is becoming the Rose Andom domestic-violence resource center. Although a majority of the members of a parks advisory board had opposed the move, the city’s then parks-director overrode that vote, paving the way for Denver City Council to approve the deal in April 2013.
Opponents of the deal claimed that the Hampden Heights property was officially a park, having been used as open space since before 1956, and so under the city charter could not be released byDenver without an election; they organized as Friends of Denver Parks to fight the action in court.
After a loss in Denver District Court where the judge upheld the “less than transparent land swap,” the group took its case to the Colorado Court of Appeals, where it had had a date on September 1. Given that the school was already up and running, Chief Appeals Judge Alan Loeb asked John Case, attorney for Friends of Denver Parks and a resident of the area, what the group wanted: “This isn’t about today or tomorrow — it’s about forty years from now, when parks land is even more scarce for an increasing population than it is today,” Case told the judge.
Joe Shoemaker certainly recognized how important parks land was to the population — and ensured that Denver had plenty to enjoy. A legislator who founded the Greenway Foundation in 1974, he pushed to transform the South Platte River from the stinking mess it had become to a true amenity for Denver and surrounding areas.
Shoemaker, a longtime supporter of the education as well as the environment, passed away in 2012…before the more recent stink over the property transfer that made the Joe Shoemaker School possible.