A nearly $3 million outdoor education center could come to far northeast Denver

Environmental Learning for Kids hopes to build a learning facility in the heart of their service area, to be closer to the community and connect kids with nature right down the street from their homes.

Renderings for a potential ELK center that would be built in Montbello in an open park area (Courtesy of Environmental Learning for Kids)

Renderings for a potential ELK center that would be built in Montbello in an open park area (Courtesy of Environmental Learning for Kids)

Allan Tellis. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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A nearly $3 million outdoor education facility run by Environmental Learning for Kids could be soon coming to Denver’s Montbello neighborhood at 12680 East Albrook Dr., and construction could begin as early next year.

Kim Weiss, ELK’s associate director, said the organization wanted to be closer to the communities they serve than they are at their office near the intersection of I-25 and I-76. Their programming helps underserved youth connect with the outdoors with the hope of fostering a long-term relationship with nature.

“We were 10 miles away from our service area,” she said. “So we really want to be in the service area and having the open space in the building will be kind of seamless into the park.”

In community planning meetings, ELK heard that neighbors wanted, Weiss said, and that it could satisfy multiple needs in the far northeast part of the city.

“Montbello and northeast Denver, they do need a community hub,” she said. “This education center could play that role. It is not just for our offices.”

There will be two large classrooms in the building that will be open to the community and that ELK hopes will allow the building to fill that void and create place that residents can use. Parents and kids who use ELK services were able to meet with architects to help design the building in a way that seemed most useful to the community.

Weiss said that they’re still in the fundraising stages and won’t begin building until all of the money for the 7,400-square foot building is raised. They are optimistic about their prospects of staying on track with their timeline.

Denver’s planning and parks departments proposed zoning changes — that were later unanimously passed by council — in order to have the function of the plot of land align with its zoning designation.

While every committee member present was in favor of the idea of adding amenities like the ELK center and a new park, Councilman Paul López raised a concern about the priorities of land use in the state. He cited other nearby parks and pressing issues in far northeast Denver — the area is a food desert, and the city is facing a housing crunch — that this park can’t address.

The changes could also lead to the dedication of that parkland so that it could forever be designated as a a park unless the people of Denver vote to use the land differently.