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Affordable workforce housing to be built in Mancos around restored historic print studio

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Chris Clements / KSJD
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Artwork in the Mancos Common Press in historic downtown Mancos.

A restored historic print and design studio in Mancos is hoping to break ground this spring on a huge expansion that will triple its workshop capacity but will also help address housing shortages in the community.

“So what I'm doing is I'm operating the Chandler & Price platen press,” said Rosie Carter, shop manager at the Mancos Common Press. “And this press prints with sort of a clamshell motion. So your form, which would be your tape and your imagery, gets compressed against your paper, kind of like a clamshell, closing on itself.”

The Press used to be the home of the Mancos Times, which began printing in 1911 and ceased production in 1970.

In 2013, with the help of funding from the Ballantine Family Fund, the University of Pennsylvania and the Colorado State Historical Fund, the Press was restored as an educational print studio and run by a dedicated group of community members.

“I mean these presses are like – they're a little bit magical,” Carter said. “People come in here, and just the mechanics of it and the old – it's a little bit steampunk in here. All this old equipment. People really – it's amazing to see people's eyes just, like, grow wide when they see all this stuff in here.”

The Press boasts a dazzling collection of artwork created by local artists right there in the shop.

In one corner of the art space, there’s a print of wildflowers done by artist Cynthia Sadler.

In another, there’s a small-scale model made out of wood that hints at the future Carter and others involved in the Press hope will soon come to fruition.

It’s a rendering of the Mancos Commons, an almost 4,000 square foot, two-story mixed-use development including three single-bedroom affordable housing units, a large workshop space for the Common Press as well as some retail and office space.

“So what our intention is is that it would be workforce housing, so whether that's artists, school teachers, any other folks that (are) in the service sector, that are having a really hard time affording housing right now, rental housing in the market,” said Tami Graham, president of the Mancos Common Press board.

Like many other towns in Colorado, Mancos is struggling to provide affordable housing for its residents, something Graham says everyone in Mancos should be concerned about.

“We're risking losing access to average folks who work and function in our community, and without projects like this one, we won't continue to have a core of a workforce in our communities,” Graham said. “That is what makes up our communities. Among other things. I mean, the richness of a community is having a wide spectrum of community members living and working in our communities.”

The concern over that potential loss of community diversity is shared by Heather Alvarez, Mancos’s town administrator.

“From the community side, housing in Mancos is impossible to find, especially rental units,” Alvarez said. “When you can find them, many times people that are working locally are priced out of the market, because we are seeing more people from outside of town moving into town.”

The average home price in Mancos, according to Zillow, is about $479,000 dollars, compared to the median home price nationally: about $348,000.

“Our mayor, for example, had a water leak in her house – could not find anywhere to rent,” Alvarez said. “For months, she lived in the local motel, because there was nothing available. It's – so that's how the town started to have the discussions and get involved in, not only our staff, our town staff, but school staff, nursing home staff, no place to rent or even can afford to purchase. My town clerk today has been here for over a year, and still can't find anything that she can afford. With two kids and college coming up.”

For Carter, it’s not just about housing, it’s about keeping Mancos a diverse and vibrant community.

“And when things get too expensive, that means a whole big group of people can't afford to stay, which just makes places less diverse, less interesting, in my opinion, and really, you know, less – less caring, really, in a way, if we can't figure out ways to affordably house people, feed people, take care of people,” she said. “So I think it's really important what the Press is up to with this project.”

Though the project is still actively raising money, the Mancos Commons is expected to break ground in May or June of this year.

Chris Clements is KSJD's news reporter. He previously covered literary arts as a reporter for The Chautauquan Daily in Chautauqua, New York, and recently graduated with a degree in English from Arizona State University. He’s passionate about all things related to journalism, music and film, especially author David Foster Wallace, jazz singer Cecile McLorin Salvant and the films of Paul Thomas Anderson.