ASPEN - Some of Pitkin County's plows have outgrown their garage.
A $210,000 upgrade to the county's fleet maintenance facility is budgeted next year, covering both safety improvements and a bigger door.
The plows that are used to clear county roads are a tight fit, but some of the behemoth equipment at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport can't be squeezed into the shop at all, according to Brian Pettet, the county's director of public works.
"The stuff we use for road and bridge, like by inches, fits in," he said.
When the airport's massive machinery is left out in the cold, so are the mechanics who must service the vehicles.
"It's been a few years that the mechanics have had to work on the equipment outside because we can't get it into the building," Pettet said.
At the airport, the snow-removal fleet is kept in a spacious vehicle bay at the west-side operations facility, but maintenance takes place at the county's fleet facility across Highway 82 from the airport.
The county considered outfitting the airport facility with the tools and equipment necessary to maintain the airport's fleet there, but that approach turned out to be more expensive than renovating the maintenance facility to create a bigger door, according to Pettet.
Width is the main problem, but if it's possible to gain additional height clearance, that will be done, too, he said.
The airport's snow-removal equipment includes vehicles with tires as tall as a man. They have to be that large to get traction because the tires can't be chained up - chains would tear up the runway and taxiway, where a smooth surface is critical for safety reasons, explained Jim Elwood, aviation director.
The equipment needs to be hefty to move even fluffy snow, he added, because snow becomes compacted as its plowed.
"It becomes heavy and hard to work with even if it started out as very light snow," Elwood said.
County commissioners have given an initial nod to the public works expenditure during their budget deliberations to date. The building renovation would occur in the spring, Pettet said.