Colorado State opens last building on National Western grounds

One of the goals of the Western Daughters Butcher Shoppe in Denver’s Lower Highland Neighborhood is to connect urban dwellers with the folks who grow their food, to offer a meeting point between the two communities.

Shop co-owner Josh Curtiss said that’s why he and his partner, Kate Kavanaugh, wanted to open a cafe on Colorado State University’s Spur complex on the National Western Center grounds. Their cafe is in the Hydro building, the third and final of the buildings on the campus, part of an overall plan to make the sprawling site in north Denver a year-round education and entertainment center.

“We love the idea of the Spur campus and how that has a similar goal of connecting people to their food and where their food comes from and the people who grow their food,” Curtiss said.

Western Daughters buys from farmers and ranchers within 150 miles of its store. The meat comes from animals that were 100% grass-fed and pasture-raised, Curtiss said.

The Hydro building, where the Western Daughters Kitchen is, opened to the public for the first time Friday, a day before the start of the 117th edition of the annual National Western Stock Show. 

The first building that opened at CSU Spur was Vida, Spanish for “life,” which showcases CSU’s nationally renowned veterinary program, equine sports medicine and connections to human health. The building named Terra, Latin for “earth,” focuses on agriculture.

Hydro, Greek for “water,” is roughly 122,000 square feet and the biggest of the three buildings. It celebrates Colorado’s status as a headwaters state and will be the site of the annual Water in the West Symposium.

“It’s wonderful to have these spaces that allow us to do research and to bring people together for conversations around food, water and health,” said Jocelyn Hittle, associate vice chancellor of the Spur campus.

The Hydro building is meant to be a place to bring people together around water, Hittle said. “We know we need collaborative solutions to water challenges in Colorado and across the American West.”

Hydro will house Denver Water’s new water quality laboratory, giving CSU and agency scientists a chance to work together. Denver Water spokesman Travis Thompson said moving the lab from a building in southwest Denver will also help Denver Water, which serves 1.5 million people across the metro area, with outreach to the public.

“Moving here gives us an ability to expand on what we already do now. Our lab conducts about 200,000 water samples every year,” said Thompson.

With the new space, about 1,900 square feet, the lab could handle up to three times the current level of testing.

Like the other buildings, Hydro has exhibits, many interactive, that show the importance of its focus area to people, animals and the environment. Visitors will be able to watch the science and work underway through windows lining the hallways. There are rooms for community groups and classes to use.

The new lab, which will be certified by the state, should be at full operation in April.

Cultivating careers

Besides increasing people’s awareness of food, water and health issues, the aim of the Spur campus is to help educate students and perhaps spark interest in careers they might not have considered, said Tony Frank, chancellor of the CSU system.

Frank said discussions and plans for the Spur campus started about 15 years ago. The university, whose flagship campus is in Fort Collins, was exploring ways to expand its brand into the Denver area while also reaching more young people.

“Denver is the state’s largest city, its commercial and governmental capital,” Frank said. “It’s where a lot of our students come from. Yet it didn’t seem to us that another bricks-and-mortar campus was really what was needed.”

At about the same time, the National Western was looking to revamp its aging facilities and expand. The organization checked out other potential sites, including Aurora, and approached CSU about being a partner. Denver city officials, wanting to hold onto the stock show, recommended redeveloping the National Western Center, which is ongoing.

The Colorado General Assembly provided $200 million for the three Spur buildings and another $50 million for related facilities on the Fort Collins campus. Construction started during the coronavirus pandemic, but still finished on time and on budget, Frank said.

CSU launched a statewide tour for ideas about how the Spur campus could help school districts as well as business and community interests. The university wants to increase people’s understanding of agriculture as well as encourage more Colorado young people to pursue higher education.

“Whether that’s CSU or (the University of Colorado) or Metropolitan (State University) or community colleges, I don’t care,” Frank said. “I just want them to go, because we need their talent. We need their ideas, their ambition. We need their creativity.”

So far, the Spur campus has offered about 200 field trips for students and others to watch veterinarians and scientists at work and to talk to them, said Kathryn Venzor, director of education at Spur. The CSU education team works with students from preschool through high school.

“We’re a supplemental resource to teachers. We introduce students to potential careers,” said Venzor, who added that the programs and services are free.

The university has worked most closely with two local elementary schools and Bruce Randolph School, a middle and high school. Venzor said about 4,000 students, teachers and chaperones visited the Spur campus in the past year, She expects the numbers to rise substantially now that all three buildings are open.

The campus opens the buildings and sponsors programs and activities for members of the public on the second Saturday of each month.

The CSU Extension Service will use the buildings for programs and help connect Spur’s team to people across the state, Venzor said. Much of the motivation behind the campus stems from a realization that there aren’t enough people going into science fields, she added.

“There continue to be increasing challenges in food, water and health,” Venzor said. “We realize we not only need more professionals in these fields, but we need more diverse voices. We need people who are more representative of the communities we’re trying to serve.”


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