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Local group plans to repurpose the former Paris Elementary School into a community hub

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A network of local nonprofits want to lease the former Paris Elementary School building, but an Aurora Public Schools official said the proposal was “significantly below” what the district estimates the property requires
Photo: Lindsey Ford, Rocky Mountain PBS

AURORA, Colo. — YAASPA, a local nonprofit that stands for Young Aspiring Americans for Social and Political Activism,  entered negotiations last month with the Aurora Public School District to repurpose the Paris Elementary school building into a community hub. The Aurora Public School Board had announced in 2022 that it would close Paris Elementary by the end of the 2023 school year due to low enrollment.

“If we look at community-based ownership and physical capital and space, that Black folks have a lot of spaces taken from us, right?” said Janiece Mackey, the co-founder of YAASPA, which is one of several groups within The All Black Collective (ABC Collective), a local group of community nonprofits hoping to take over the school grounds. 

“And it’s very necessary for us to reclaim spaces and that means multiple spaces,” Mackey said. 

Colorado Voices

Paris Elementary will be repurposed into a community hub

YAASPA proposes paying $48,000 annually to lease the 48,000 square foot building, which includes 21 classrooms. The former Paris Elementary building would cost about $1.2 million a year to run, said Corey Christiansen, a spokesperson for Aurora Public Schools.

Christiansen noted that the proposal was “significantly below” what the district estimates the property requires.

A combination of four companies and organizations submitted proposals to either purchase or lease Paris Elementary, through the Aurora Public School District Request for Approval.  Among the bidders was a real estate company.

The school district outlined values such as safety, a family friendly environment, services and support for the neighborhood and community, or supporting improved student outcomes, that the chosen bidder needed to fulfill.

Mackey said she and the ABC Collective decided to submit a proposal to turn Paris Elementary into a community hub in order to have all their community-based services housed under one roof.

The ABC Collective, which formed this year, includes local educational, health, mental health, and community-based organizations such as YAASPA, The Apprentice of Peace Youth Organization (AOPYO), Driven By Our Ambitions (DBOA), and the Aurora Wellness Community.

YAASPA supports Black, Brown and Indigenous students in middle and high school by exposing them to career pathways and degrees in social justice, while also teaching them about civic literacy, and providing scholarships with a goal of dismantling racism in the education system.

AOPYO teaches youth health and wellness practices like Tai Chi classes and meditation. The organization also helps kids find career pathways. DBOA has a similar approach, providing mental health support, professional development and wellness services. DBOA focuses on support for the well-being of young Black men.

Mackey, the co-founder and CEO for YAASPA, said the ABC Collective would potentially run the hub with a community-based ownership model.

Plans for the community hub include a daycare, food justice support, behavioral and mental health support, summer programming, and educational tutoring.

Daniel Sampson, the founder and CEO of Driven by our Ambitions (DBOA) said that mental health help looks different for many and that DBOA uses nontraditional spaces to help people. These spaces include music studios for young people to use so they can open up and become their authentic selves, Sampson said.

Daniel Sampson of DBOA works with youth to make music in his studio.
Photo: Daniel Sampson

“They’re not forced into that space, they’re wanting to be open in dealing with and coping with their realities and trauma through their lyrics,” said Sampson.

Sampson said that as a Black man, visiting the barber shop and talking with men who look like him and understand similar struggles is a form of healing.

The community hub, he said, would be a place of refuge where educational support will be provided so that children who may have been expelled from school, for example, won’t fall behind.

“We’re trying to create a school-to-school pipeline,” he said. “Change the narrative, focused on creating outlets for young folks that have been system-involved to see other avenues to go into career pathways with, specifically mental health and wellness services. That is a small crop of, especially young men of color in [that profession],” said Sampson.

Daniel Sampson of DBOA said barber shops are a safe space for youth of color, a place where kids can talk with adults who look like them and understand their struggles.
Photo: Daniel Sampson

Pos Ryant, co-founder of The Apprentice of Peace Youth Organization (AOPYO), said he believes the community hub would be a safe space for young people in difficult situations and people of color.

“A lot of times, you know, we have to follow what other people say and do what other people do without them really understanding us, so this gives us power over our communities,” said Ryant.

The proposed center will outline rules to help people access the community hubs resources and there will not be an age limit to who will be able to access them, said Mackey.

“Never thought about going after a school,” she said of the possibilities of turning Paris Elementary into a community hub.

“When I thought about our collective power and what we could do, and particularly, honestly, the anti-blackness that we’ve experienced along this process, I’m super, super excited about the freedom dreaming that we’ve been able to do and actually actualize in real life right?” she said. “This has become very real, right? This is no longer a theory, this is no longer a dream, this is happening.” 

Neither ABC Collective nor Aurora Public Schools would go into details about the negotiations, but Christiansen said they hope to “reach an agreement in a timely manner that meets the needs of both partners.”

Lindsey Ford is a multimedia journalist at Rocky Mountain PBS.

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