In the News
Watershed gets EPA grant for McGinnis Gym project
Chaffee County Times
Buena Vista, May 31, 2023
Local nonprofit Watershed Inc. was awarded a US EPA Brownfields Cleanup Grant in the amount of $979,222 to fund the environmental remediation of the McGinnis Gymnasium.
A “brownfield” is any property that is disused due to real or perceived contamination. The McGinnis Gym is contaminated with asbestos, lead paint and mold, which must be abated before the gym can be fully restored and reopened to the public. EPA Brownfields grants are nationally competitive funding sources available to remediate buildings like the McGinnis Gym.
“The McGinnis Gym project could not have gotten this far without EPA and partners KSU and Tetra Tech,” said Katy Welter, President of Watershed NP, Inc. “The training, technical assistance, warm introductions and now funding have allowed us to return a blighted building on Buena Vista’s elementary school campus to its historic use as a school and community gym, theater and assembly space. It’s fitting to bring back the McGinnis Gym in this time, and with the federal government’s help as the gym was built as a federal Public Works Administration project in 1936. Our little mountain town thanks you.”
Work to remediate and rehabilitate the McGinnis Gym is scheduled to begin this July and finish by the summer of 2024. Once complete, the 5,400-square foot gym will look much as it did when it was constructed in 1936 and will serve its original purpose—as a gymnasium, performing arts venue and assembly space for the school district and community.
Restoration of the gym is made possible through local, state, and federal public funding. Since acquiring the property from the school district, Watershed Inc., a 501(c)(3) all-volunteer nonprofit, has managed this complex project and also served as its guarantor: If public support had not come through, then Watershed had pledged to fund the work anyway.
“I am deeply committed to improving the economic and environmental well-being of Colorado’s 7th district,” said U.S. Rep. Brittany Pettersen. “I’m glad to see federal funds coming to cleanup efforts, which will help our communities thrive. The McGinnis Gymnasium holds a rich historical significance in Buena Vista, and this award ensures it will continue to serve the next generation in Chaffee County.”
“We hope the community feels reassured, as we do, that the remediation of this community asset is being completed in close partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment,” said Watershed Inc. president Katy Welter. “Through these agencies, we have received advice, financial assistance and warm introductions to the highest quality professionals in the field, who have worked with schools, hospitals and similarly sensitive spaces. The gym is in good hands.”
BVSD superintendent Lisa Yates has been a key partner in the project since the School Board first offered the gym for sale in 2021.
“It has been a pleasure to work with Watershed on this project, which fulfills a longstanding goal of the district,” Yates said. “For the price of demolishing the old gym, the school district will receive a carefully restored and much-needed property. It’s a gift.”
“We hope this will serve as a model public-private-partnership,” Welter said. “Because the gym is historic, and also a critically-needed venue for indoor recreation, arts and assembly, the project is now fully funded through the Buena Vista school district, History Colorado, and the US EPA.”
The community is invited to an upcoming community meeting on June 29, at 5:30 p.m., at the school district administration building next to the gym, 113 N. Court St in Buena Vista.
Community members will have an opportunity to learn more about the project, meet the team, ask questions and share memories and photos from the gym.