August 10 was just another day for the nonprofit Alpine Autism Center in the Mountain Shadows community of Colorado Springs — before the flood, that is.
“One moment it was fine, and the next we were evacuating,” said Director of Operations Kimberly Trujillo. “It has really been devastating for everyone.”
Heavy rains came that Monday afternoon, quickly overflowing a retention pond beneath the nearby Waldo Canyon burn scar, causing water, mud and debris to divert directly into the 501(c)3 organization’s 14,000-square-foot campus at 2760 Fieldstone Drive.
The building was evacuated without injury to any of the center’s 30 clients and 40 employees, but it was too late for the facility itself.
“Our emergency plan was followed flawlessly,” said Gary Snyder, who has served on the center’s board of directors for a decade. “Seven employees lost cars. … We got the building cleaned up, but we had to throw away nearly everything and cut out four feet of drywall throughout the entire building. We don’t know what the extent of the damage is.”
Around 100 volunteers helped in the cleanup effort in the weeks that followed, while administration worked to find a place to resume treatment for the autistic kids it serves.
“Children with autism don’t do well with emergencies and changes in routine,” Snyder said. “All of this has been happening while we’re still just trying to figure out what’s going on.”
It wasn’t long before they returned to a reasonable level of normalcy with help from Temple Shalom, which offered to house the center until their students returned from summer break last week. Now, the organization’s services are temporarily located in Holy Trinity School, and Snyder is hopeful they can return to their own building by November.
“I don’t know that we can go back to the same location, for fear of the same thing happening,” he said. “It’s important for us to find someplace for the kids — a place that will cause the least amount of stress for them.”
Snyder said the center has never experienced flooding more severe than occasional puddles under doorways, but he did say that the organization has “excellent insurance coverage.” Still, the claims process has been challenging due to the loss of important files to the flood.
In the meantime, Snyder said the board recently met with city officials to work on a plan of action — both for the center and for the nearby floodwater retention system blamed for the damage.
The meeting was unproductive, he said, aside from the city’s recommendation that they apply for Federal Emergency Management Agency funding with their help.
“That’s great, but it would be two years down the line before we heard anything,” he said. “There’s no help forthcoming at this point.”
Snyder and the board of directors are currently looking for community partners who might help find more funding or a better home.
Alpine Autism Center was founded in 2005 and bought the property for $1 million in 2013, according to information from the El Paso County Assessor’s Office. Its current value is estimated at $1.6 million.