ASPEN - Mountain Rescue Aspen has proposed construction of a new headquarters of about 12,500 square feet on the outskirts of Aspen, allowing the all-volunteer organization to move out of a cabin on Main Street, which the group says it has long outgrown.
A development application submitted to Pitkin County on Friday depicts a two-story building, about half of which is devoted to garage space, and an attached training tower containing a climbing wall. The facility, to be constructed at the present site of Planted Earth nursery on Highway 82, south of the Aspen Business Center, would be about three-quarters of the size of the Aspen Volunteer Fire Department's North 40 fire station, north of the business center.
The new building would replace the small cabin where members can't all fit in the team meeting room and a fleet of rescue vehicles, including three trucks, snowmobiles, ATVs and trailers can't all be accommodated. They are spread among various locales, including members' homes.
"We outgrew it 20 years ago," said Jeff Edelson, Mountain Rescue director of operations.
However, the group has worked diligently with designers on a building design for the new headquarters that doesn't appear overwhelming in size, he said.
Still, when county commissioners agreed early this week to cover $11,412 in planning fees assessed by the county for the application, Commissioner Jack Hatfield expressed surprise over the size of the envisioned structure. "That's huge, right there on 82," he said.
The location puts Mountain Rescue outside of the bottleneck at the entrance to Aspen, where traffic is often clogged, the application notes. Most of the organization's rescue calls come from beyond the entrance. In addition, the new site is close to the airport, which comes into play when rescues involve use of an aircraft, and a future traffic signal is planned on Highway 82 at the access to the site.
Plans for the new headquarters include an emergency operations center, training room, board room, locker room, areas for equipment and vehicle storage, a communications/command center, a lounge/lobby and museum area, bunk rooms where members can sleep after coming in from a rescue and a one-bedroom apartment for an on-site maintenance person. Roughly two dozen outdoor parking spaces, for team members and visitors, would be provided.
Though the building is much larger than the roughly 3,000-square-foot cabin Mountain Rescue currently occupies, the organization hopes for a nominal increase in operating costs for what will be a far more energy-efficient building, according to Edelson. The cabin, he said, "costs us an arm and a leg to heat."
Mountain Rescue has operated out of the cabin since its founding in 1965 with about 16 local mountaineers. Now, the organization has about 50 volunteers, along with training requirements and equipment needs that didn't exist in the early days. The cabin was expanded in 1989, but is still far too small to accommodate demands. Team meetings are standing-room-only affairs, said Doug Paley, Mountain Rescue president.
The new site, of about one acre, has been placed under contract for an undisclosed sum. The county assessor's office placed the value of the land and existing buildings on it at $1.7 million last year.
The budget for construction of the new headquarters is $2.5 million, and the organization has fundraising yet to do, Paley said.
A $1.5 million gift from Lynda Cameron, announced last month, keyed the group's ability to move forward with plans for a new facility. She was rescued along with four other people by Mountain Rescue Aspen from an airplane crash site in the Pitkin County backcountry in 1977. Cameron's father, C.B. Cameron, was killed in the crash, and her donation was made in his name.
The new building will be called the C.B. Cameron Rescue Center, but other naming opportunities will be unveiled in the coming weeks, according to Edelson. And, a Dec. 9 fundraising event at L'Hostaria is planned, Paley said.
With the project under review by Pitkin County this winter, Mountain Rescue is hoping construction can begin next spring, with the building ready for occupancy the following year, Edelson said.
What becomes of the cabin remains to be seen, though Mountain Rescue does not intend to use it, he said. The organization leases the land from the city of Aspen and owns the cabin.
"We have not yet had that discussion," Edelson said.