By JULY 30, 2019 | 5:23AM Westword Magazine|
On a recent, blazing-hot Friday, the Educare campus at Clayton Early Learning is abuzz with children playing in t he halls and swarming their teachers. These children, from months-old infants to five-year-olds, enroll in Clayton’s programs through the summer months, receiving research-backed care and evaluation funded by a historic philanthropic trust.
Nearly all of them come from families that live below the poverty line, but you wouldn’t know it looking down the clean, spacious hallway of classrooms in a facility that most public high schools would envy. Clayton’s Educare campus was built in 2006 as an addition to the century-old red-brick Historic Clayton Campus, a registered national landmark on the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. and Colorado boulevards. “Often the families, when they come in here for the first time, go, ‘Wow. I never thought anybody valued me and my child to build us a place like this,’” says Charlotte Brantley, Clayton’s outgoing CEO and president.
Clayton might be a nationally known nonprofit, but as Brantley is well aware, it has faced its fair share of scrutiny in the past few years over one of its funding sources.
On July 11, Clayton Early Learning sold the 155-acre plot of land that makes up the now-defunct Park Hill Golf Course to real estate developer Westside Investment Partners for $24 million. The land is still subject to a conservation easement that prohibits development — or, technically, any use other than a golf course.
“At this point, this was really the only way to get [to Clayton’s financial goals],” says Brantley, who stayed on past her planned retirement to close the deal, which she spent much of her tenure at Clayton negotiating. “This wasn’t the only thing we had tried, but when someone came forward willing to buy it for $24 million…it was frankly an offer that, as good stewards of this trust, it wouldn’t have made sense for us to turn down,” she says.
The deal has set off a firestorm, with parks advocates ranging from Park Hill residents to former mayor Wellington Webb claiming that the land should not be developed. They argue that in an increasingly concrete Denver, maintaining green space nearly the size of Washington Park should be an urgent priority.
“There isn’t anything remotely this size in the city that, for generations to come, could be preserved as open space,” says Woody Garnsey, a retired lawyer from Park Hill and one of the most vocal advocates for the land. Garnsey and his wife, Georgia, help spearhead the Save Open Space (SOS) Denver group that plans to fight the powers-that-be. “Our view on that is that once one acre of that land is covered with concrete, it will never be green again. It will never come back,” says Garnsey.