When we think South Nevada Avenue we assume “downtown” turns to simply rundown.

Next time, keep driving, pass the grungy live-in motels, let the highway suck you under, then take a right on South Cascade Avenue.

You’ll find yourself at Colorado Springs’ Ivywild School. Formerly an elementary school building, the recently opened community-oriented restaurant, brewery, and art space has hit the ground running since its grand opening on Aug. 16. The idea behind the revamped school makes it a promising new spot for Colorado Springs.

The original school was built in 1916; over the years, the cost of maintaining the nearly 100-year-old structure finally overcame its means, and it was closed in 2009. Immediately after, local brewer Mike Bristol and restaurant owner Joe Coleman began developing a collaborative community project for the newly vacated space. They purchased the building in March of 2012, according to the Ivywild School website, and share the space.

The duo had this collaboration in mind when the project began. “We tried to emulate the structure of nature which is a loop…we selected entities that can share the byproducts of their operations,” explained architect Jim Fennell in a KRCC interview with Noel Black in August. Fennell helped the owners create a space that minimizes and reuses as much of its waste as possible while reinvigorating neighborhood connections and local businesses.

The former upstairs classroom spaces are now occupied with several restaurants and shops, all creations of Joe Coleman. His other restaurants, including La’au’s and Nosh, are local favorites, and his understanding of the local scene is made even clearer with these new additions.

Bristol Brewery, whose operation and bar take up half the building space, just made the move about four months ago and is settling in to a new space with brand-new equipment. “Things are going well,” said the Bristol gift shopkeeper. “We get really busy.”

The restaurants work with the brewery to serve customers as part of a single experience. “We have to work really tightly to make that seamless,” said Mike Bristol in an interview with Noel Black on KRCC in late August.

Based on the concept of neighborhood symbiosis between individuals and their communities, Coleman and Bristol considered the relationship to the earth and the economics of business and human interaction, which are laid out in Fennell’s book proposal for the project, Build Ivywild (2013, CenturionServant Publishers). Backed by the community and taken on by contributors, the building also holds a small art school from the local ModBo Gallery, a satellite KRCC recording space to broadcast music live, and the architect’s headquarters.  With businesses busy already and the presence of ModBo and KRCC, the plans project far into the future to provide a model for symbiotic communities elsewhere.

In the beautifully designed and inviting space, I found myself talking to an older woman. “It’s my seventieth birthday!” she told me. “I’m here with a few ladies.” They are all enjoying coffee and pastries made in the same building. When I asked how they like Ivywild, they all exclaim, in unison, how delightful it is: “We just love it!”

The grounds around the school’s city block-sized area are also used. On Wednesdays, the Colorado Farm and Art market occupies the outdoor space in front of the building. Run by a cooperative of vendors from Colorado, sellers fill their tents with vegetables, fruits, artisan crafts, tamales, and other goods made or grown locally. Local food trucks come and serve from their mobile restaurants; outdoor live music is performed in the early evening on most Wednesdays.

Plans for a future community garden and other goings-on outside the building are in the works. As they planned from the very beginning, the project will continue to grow and evolve, just as a symbiotic relationship in nature would.

The website uses the phrase “neighboring” as a verb, and although Ivywild is new, that certainly seems like an appropriate way to describe the space and the interactions it facilitates.

It’s evident that the spacious decks alongside the main entrance are a popular place for friends to lounge in Adirondack chairs and sip on cold Bristol brews. A group of two friends became five as more people arrived or mixed tables, forming new relationships with former strangers.

“It can be based around food and drink and what that does for community. It’s not just food and its not just drink; it’s what that can do for the whole community’s communication,” said Bristol in the same interview. Using Ivywild to draw people together means pulling back and examining who one’s neighbors are. “Beer is not just a product, it is a way to influence society and people,” he added.

Ivywild’s popularity has been pending all summer as residents awaited the grand opening. Now that the collaborative space is up and running, it seems this new community embodies the feeling of life its creators intended. As a part of the Colorado Springs community that tends to stick to itself, this spot is a must-go for Colorado College. Get some groceries at the Wednesday market, have some food, and use the community space to push yourself just a little outside of Colorado College campus life.

Leeds Lily Mallinckrodt-Reese, Staff Writer

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