The vacant room inside the historic North Highland Presbyterian Church at the moment resembles a blank canvas. Its walls are painted white. It’s almost entirely empty, save for some scattered, piled-up pieces of unused construction material.
This room is part of a community center in north Denver called The Highlands Center. It’s sponsored by the North Highland Presbyterian Church and consists of two buildings along Julian Street, including the historic building where the vacant room now sits.
Renovations to the room were supposed to be completed this year. But after a subcontractor walked out last month, the church’s pastor, Rev. Ashley Taylor, said they need at least $20,000 to complete repairs in the roughly 1,700-square-foot space. The center consists of multiple spaces in two buildings the church makes available to local, creative businesses and organizations occupying rooms within the two buildings. They’re also available as rental spaces for events.
“It’s been two years in the process so that we can draw in another partner, that’s (what) we call space-sharers, and that they would rent it,” Taylor said as she walked inside the giant room this week. “And that’s going to make our whole income so that it can sustain us.”
Taylor said the center is seeking donations from the public to complete renovations and make the space available to another partner.
The space in need of renovation sits on the historic Presbyterian site at 3401 W. 29th Ave., right next to the separate building that now serves as the primary temple for the church on Julian Street. The historic, Gothic Revival building was built in 1897.
Taylor said the situation has made them consider putting the buildings up for sale and closing up shop altogether. They’ve launched a GoFund Me to raise money to help complete the renovations. They need about $5,000 a month to be sustainable, which is income that could be generated by the room if it was completed.
“It’s crazy that it all hinges on that,” Taylor said.
Work began after a daycare moved out, but it was never completed.
After those tenants left, Taylor said community input led them to consider converting the room into a coworking space. But then they heard from Wonder Co., a creative arts education company for children, who wanted to pay for space.
Julie Scarlata, the owner of The Wonder Co., said she was going to use the space to help run a summer camp for children to learn more about the arts, music, theater, yoga and cooking.
“They have been absolutely instrumental in supporting us and what we’re trying to do,” Scarlata said.
The company used a temporary space in a basement while the room was revamped for them.
After an electrician turned the worksite over to general contractor Built Rite for further construction this year, things went south. Taylor said the work done by a subcontractor provided by Built Rite was subpar. The subcontractor hired for the HVAC installation left abruptly last month. At that point, Taylor said, they had already spent $50,000 in renovations to the room.
Taylor said she worked with Built Rite owner Andrew Hopkins. Attempts to contact Built Rite or Hopkins were unsuccessful Friday. Hopkins is listed as the company’s owner by the Better Business Bureau.
Taylor said the subcontractor only got about a quarter of the work done for the HVAC system even though the person had already been paid $10,000 at that point. She said some of the work completed violated building code, which means it will have to be redone. Work on the gas lines and the floor still needs to be completed.
Highlands Center members considered reaching out for more community support after seeing the response to the burning of Notre Dame cathedral.
It made Taylor think about spaces worth saving. She said she will need to find another job while she figures out how to come up with the funds to pay for repairs. She said supporting the center isn’t necessarily about supporting the church, but about ensuring the space is still available for the community.
About five years ago, the church decided to change its approach and become a space for progressive and creative programs. It currently houses seven “partners,” including a yoga studio, a Buddhist meditation center and a music academy.
“This is a safe space for the neighborhood,” Taylor said. “When it’s filled, it is the heart of this area. Truly, it’s good what happens here.”
Scarlata spent a few years in Paris as a child. She heard about the sudden surge of money to rebuild the cathedral and thought about how Denverites could respond.
“Every day, there are places that need to survive and need financial backing,” Scarlata said. “It’s been mobilized for Notre Dame, but how do we mobilize it for our community?”
Due in part to the construction delays, she’s planning on moving out and will relocate to Wheat Ridge. She doesn’t want to see the center fail.
“It would be a shame to lose her and her vision for what this place can become,” Scarlata said about Taylor. “She is just a force. She is just this beautiful spirit who is doing everything she can to help this place survive.”