As the Colorado Freedom Memorial — a site in Aurora dedicated to honoring the thousands of Colorado veterans killed in action — approaches its 10th anniversary, the memorial’s caretakers are hoping it’s also the year a longtime vision for it can become reality.
The Colorado Freedom Memorial Foundation has spent the past six months working with Aurora city staff to craft plans for a new visitor and education center. The project is estimated to cost $5.5 million.
City staff are also exploring the possibility of making the memorial its own city park. It is located at Aurora’s Springhill Community Park near the Buckley Space Force Base.
As planning moves along, the foundation is asking for the city council’s formal support, and its blessing for city staff to continue working on the project, as it begins fundraising for the center. Getting all the necessary city and county approvals is expected to take until the third quarter of 2023.
A drafted resolution co-sponsored by Councilmembers Dustin Zvonek and Danielle Jurinsky will ask the council to endorse the project. The resolution is expected to come up for approval on Jan. 30 as part of council’s consent agenda.
The foundation is not requesting any city money and has secured $1.5 million in federal funding through the help of U.S. Rep. Jason Crow. Executive Director Rick Crandall is seeking private funding for rest of the project, which he hopes will go more smoothly if council backs the project, staff said.
Construction of the building is projected to cost $3.5 million. Staffing and operations, plus a maintenance endowment, is estimated to fall between $2 and $2.5 million.
The proposed center would replace an outdoor gazebo on the site and provide an indoor space for future events. Crandall recalled people running to cars in hailstorms or sheltering at a nearby recreation center during tornado warnings during past events, while he urged council to consider an indoor facility during Monday's study session.
A visitor and education center would also allow new programming to take place at the memorial, Crandall said.
“We want to begin each visit there, especially with young people, by teaching about service and sacrifice,” he said.
Historians, authors, veterans and personnel from military bases such as Buckley would be able to offer the community presentations there. The foundation also has a new partnership with History Colorado and its military curator, which would become another use for the space, Crandall said.
The plans include 60 to 70 parking spots and a two-floor facility. The first floor would comprise a welcome desk, offices, and a 120- to 150-seat theater for programs. The second floor would entail classroom space, a reception area, outdoor patio, kitchen and an exhibit hall, where Crandall said the foundation would tell the stories behind names on the memorial.
“We have been selected to receive a pretty valuable relic, a piece of the beam of the U.S.S. Arizona from Pearl Harbor, that will be displayed in our second-floor exhibit hall,” Crandall said.
Curt Bish with the city’s parks, recreation and open space department outlined which major steps the project will need take in order to proceed.
They include working with Arapahoe County to address project impacts on the site, requesting a conditional use approval from the planning commission, requesting an amendment for the park master plan, and finally, requesting city council to amend the foundation’s agreement with the city to permit pursuit of the construction project.
Staff are considering the idea of making the memorial a separate park as well, which would require following Aurora’s policies for naming city-owned parks, Bish said.
Mayor Pro Tem Curtis Gardner praised the project and the memorial as a significant feature in the community. He suggested council look into ways to reduce red tape around its approval process. Gardner also commended Crandall for his work supporting veterans and said the center has been a longtime goal for Crandall.
“Really excited to see this kind of coming to fruition and moving forward,” Gardner said.