Fitzmorris Recreation Center: A Grassroots, Cooperative Community Project

March 5, 2019, Department, by Katie Groke Ellis, MPA, CPRP

2019 March Member to Member Fitzmorris Recreation 410

Arvada, Colorado, is a suburb located near the foothills of the Rocky Mountains just west of Denver. In 1953, special districts had come into being in the state of Colorado, and an energetic group of Arvada residents, concerned about several drownings in the area, initiated a grassroots effort to create a special park and recreation district and build a swimming pool. The residents wanted to have a safe place for their community to gather, play and learn the life-long skill of swimming, and the community worked hard to create the new special district. On November 13, 1956, Civil Action #10806 in Jefferson County District Court officially created the North Jeffco Metropolitan Recreation District (now known as the Apex Park and Recreation District).

The first project of the newly created special district was Fisher Pool, which was built and opened for the community in 1958. The Apex Park and Recreation District expanded across Arvada, but Fisher Pool remained a community landmark even after years of growth in the district. For 47 years, the pool was the local swimming spot for the neighbors, visitors and residents of Arvada. Kids in Arvada grew up swimming at Fisher Pool, and almost everyone had at least one memory of jumping off the diving board, eating a picnic in the grass or diving for pennies.

Unfortunately, after decades as the community’s destination for swimming, a floodplain project necessitated the closure of the pool, as well as of the Garrison Street Center, another Apex facility near the pool site that housed indoor soccer and gymnastics. The loss of these facilities, while necessary because of the need to remediate the floodplain to ensure citizen safety and property protections, was felt deeply by the community. After the deconstruction of Fisher Pool and the Garrison Street Center, the city of Arvada built what is now known as Ralston Central Park, which houses a fun splash pad and 20-acre park and continues to provide flood safety and recreation at the same location.

Several years after Fisher Pool closed, after constant community feedback, Apex worked closely with its partners at the city of Arvada and the Jefferson County School District to brainstorm how to reconstruct a pool in the neighborhood and get back to the roots of why Apex Park and Recreation District was created in the first place. The city, the school district and Apex proposed including a new community recreation center in the Apex bond election in 2016. The idea was that the school district would provide the land, the city would contribute matching funds to the Apex bond money and the Apex Park and Recreation District would build and operate the center. In May 2016, a total of $33 million was raised — $25 million from the bond, an additional $5 million from the sale of the bonds and $3 million from the city — for construction of six new Apex facility projects, including the Fitzmorris Recreation Center and outdoor pool, the long-awaited Fisher Pool replacement.

The city and Apex mobilized the neighborhood in support of the project: They held community meetings, design-input sessions and solicited feedback through surveys. It truly was a grassroots cooperative community project, just like the district’s founders had undertaken in the 1950s, and a neighborhood that historically challenged bond funding ultimately supported the partnership that this effort generated.

“The recreation center and pool could not have happened without a lot of people coming together to make it happen,” says John Kiljan, resident and neighbor of the Fitzmorris Recreation Center.

Shortly after the bond issue was passed, construction began on the project. The 8,500-square-foot facility sits on property adjacent to Fitzmorris Elementary School and includes a weight room, expansive fitness room and an outdoor pool.

On June 23, 2018, the brand-new Fitzmorris Recreation Center opened. The grand opening event was a historic milestone in the life of this community and included a ceremonial cannonball into the pool with the City of Arvada Mayor Marc Williams, City Councilman Bob Fifer, JeffCo School Board President Brad Rupert, several neighbors and Apex Board of Directors member Stephanie Allen.

“Apex could not be prouder of this project. It is the perfect example of a partnership where the community works together for the greater good of the neighborhood. The city, school district and Apex were able to bring this amazing facility to life and give the neighborhood back what it was missing,” says Lauri Dannemiller, Apex PRD executive director.

Katie Groke Ellis, MPA, CPRP, is the Marketing, Community Outreach and Communications Director for Apex Park and Recreation District.