Delta commissioner offers Conservation Trust funds for new teen center roof

Photo by Tamie Meck A group of girls pauses at the Paonia teen center Saturday. Thanks to funds from Delta County's Conservation Trust Fund lottery fund, the teen center could have a new roof in the near future.

After years of dealing with water leaks, the Ellen Hansen (Smith) Center, also known as the Paonia Teen Center, could soon have a new roof.

Delta County Commissioner Mark Roeber, who represents District 3 and the North Fork Valley, has pledged $20,000 from his district's share of the Conservation Trust Fund toward replacement of the damaged and leaking roof. Conservation Trust Funds are lottery funds given to local governments on a per capita basis and are reserved for public recreation projects.

"The total cost estimate is in the neighborhood of $50,000. With the year round use of that facility, I felt it was a good use of the funds," said Roeber in an email to the Delta County Citizens Report. The money will go toward matching funds for a grant application, and a request for proposals for the new roof was issued by the town in early July.

Paonia resident Danita Green said her mom, Ellen Smith, would be happy about the news.

Ellen Smith was among a group of teachers who 30 years ago made the dream of a teen center a reality. Smith, who died in 2012, spent her childhood in Bowie before moving to Grand Junction.

For many years Smith's dad operated the Buddy Park amusement park on North Avenue in Grand Junction, said Green. He eventually sold it when he went to work at what is now Colorado Mesa University. But he never lost his passion for providing opportunities for kids.

Smith earned a master's degree in special education from Western and Mesa colleges. She later returned to the North Fork Valley and taught school in Paonia for 30 years.

"She wanted to build a teen center," said Green.

In 1986, five area teens were killed in a car accident near Redstone. After that, said Green, the effort "really kicked into gear." A group of school teachers worked with the town and the Delta County School District to place a section of the old Paonia Elementary School at Town Park. The structure was part of an old army barracks, said Green. It was just a shell, but it was "pretty solid."

Paonia resident Willa Sorensen was one of those involved in the project, along with Don and Kathy Geddes, Richard and Ivy Rezak and others. At the time, she said, the high school principal had banned students from holding dances after football games. The kids had gone to Carbondale for something to do. "We realized we simply had to do something to keep our kids at home," said Sorensen.

At the time, the Unical oil refinery north of Rifle donated funds toward moving the building to its current site, said Sorensen. "We never realized the size would be big enough for the Red Feather Bowmen to practice in winter," she said.

But the building was little more than a big shell, said Green. An organization called "Women in Construction," made up of electricians, plumbers, carpenters and others, stepped in to complete the building. "And in probably two weeks it went from a shell to what it is now," said Green.

Smith was involved in the teen center for more than 30 years, and eventually took over operations. After her death the building was named after her. "She made it a hub of the community," said Green. An excellent cook, she worked hard to equip the kitchen on a tight budget, scouring garage sales and buying $25 stoves or whatever she could find, said Green.

"But the roof was the one thing that was never right," said Green "It leaked from the get-go." Green's dad Harold "was up there I don't know how many times." She remembers going to the teen center one rainy night and seeing buckets everywhere and her mom stretched out on the floor mopping up water.

Sorensen said that Smith's husband, Eugene "Gene" Smith, was also a big supporter of youth. He retired from the Mesa County School District, but his career was at Somerset, where he coached basketball. At one time, she said, the coal train would stop at Bowie and pick the team up. They'd get off at Delta and walk to the high school to play a game, then ride home on an empty train heading back to Somerset.

Over the years the Red Feather Bowmen and Ute Trails Car clubs that utilized the building put work and money into it. According to Youth Center board president Bob Bushta, the windows were replaced with RFB grant money. Ron Sims donated labor, and the teen center board donated materials.

At one point, said Green, the Red Feather Bowmen had it fixed pretty well, and it held up well during the last few years. But last fall during the high school football season, said Green, she noticed water stains on the walls. That was before the start of one of the wettest winters on record.

"Now they've finally got the money to fix it," she said. "How I wish my mom could see that."

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