County seat staying put
January 23, 2007
Aspen, CO ColoradoASPEN The Pitkin County commissioners are willing to spend at least $10 million if that’s what it takes to stay in Aspen.With Pitkin County departments running out of office space in their current quarters, the commissioners weighed a proposal to move county offices out of town. But they ultimately agreed that the county seat should remain in Aspen despite the high cost.Brian Pettet, director of county public works, presented two options to the commissioners at Tuesday’s work session.The first proposal, at a cost of $45 million, would keep most county facilities in town. The public works building near the Aspen Airport Business Center, which is outside city limits, would house a few county departments under that proposal.The second proposal, at a cost of less than $35 million, would relocate the entire county government, save the sheriff’s office and public safety operations, to what would be a new campus across from the airport.The county has bonding authority to borrow up to $35 million, $10 million short of the estimated improvements necessary to keep the government in Aspen.”We do not have the available property in the core to meet our facility needs,” Pettet said. But the city and county are cooperating on a Galena Block Master Plan, which will determine what land is available in the downtown core around the county courthouse.The Aspen Art Museum, which would share space in the new facility, is a partner in the planning process.Any proposal would probably mean the demolition of the building that houses most county offices, east of the courthouse, Pettet said.While the board scrapped the proposal for a 6,000-square-foot facility near the AABC, that land is a possible safety valve for county departments that won’t fit in new city space.The in-town plan costs more because of the higher cost of building in Aspen, as well as the need to rent space while current county buildings are demolished. Any new building would also require an expensive parking facility, Pettet said.”We don’t have enough money to build that capacity,” Pettet said. But the commissioners hope to ask voters for permission to borrow the money in the 2008 election.For the county, it’s a question of customer service.Right now, someone applying for a building permit has to first go to Community Development on the third floor of City Hall, then to Health and Human Services near the hospital, then to public works in the county building for an engineering permit.”By having those departments centrally located, that person could do it all in one trip,” Pettet said. “The commissioners would like to have as many departments in the core of Aspen as possible. But the problem is the funding.”For the project to succeed, there needs to be full agreement between city and county on the master plan and on where facilities will be, Pettet said.”We’ll work with the city to get the master plan done as quickly as possible,” he said.There are also plans for a satellite facility in El Jebel. The facility would not solve county space issues, but would give downvalley residents better access to county services.Charles Agar’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.