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Aspen Camp for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing receives grant, donations

Snow covers the grounds of the the Aspen Camp for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Old Snowmass on March 15, 2021.
Kaya Williams/The Aspen Times

The Aspen Camp of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing has received a $5,000 grant from the Rocky Mountain Health Foundation that will help the Old Snowmass camp offer a winter retreat for adults who are deaf or hard of hearing.

The grant will support pre-retreat outreach efforts and program costs for the retreat, according to Laura Gabbay, who has been working with the camp on grant writing and strategic planning.

The program could serve as many as 16 participants and will focus on people from rural communities on the Western Slope, including residents in Pitkin, Summit, Mesa, Gunnison and Eagle counties, Gabbay said. Dates and details will be posted to aspencamp.org once they are finalized.

Gabbay, who is herself hard of hearing, hopes that retreats like the one planned for this winter will help offer resources to counter the isolation that so many people in the deaf and hard of hearing community are familiar with — especially so since the pandemic added another layer to that separation.

“This has never been more timely. … For people in rural areas during COVID, it’s been a particularly difficult time,” Gabbay said.

The camp also received a $3,200 donation from the Denver7 Gives program, which raises funds from viewers for charitable community initiatives; the check officially arrived in the mail on Oct. 19, board member Karen Immerso confirmed.

Board member Christy Smith, who was previously a participant and a staffer at the Old Snowmass camp, received the Denver7 “Everyday Hero” award this spring; Immerso nominated Smith for the award that honors local Coloradans making a difference in their communities.

A news crew from the channel visited the camp in May to bestow the award and produced two stories about the camp and its need for facilities updates, which helped spur donations.

The camp has spent most of this year working on necessary facilities updates and welcomed campers back for the first time since 2018 in July. Facilities maintenance and fundraising remain the primary focus moving forward, according to Immerso.

The camp also receives funding support from the proceeds of bar sales at the Thursday night free concert series on Fanny Hill in Snowmass Village, though Immerso did not yet have a number on total funds raised this season.

For the camp, which has faced financial struggles in recent years and relies primarily on grants and donations to cover costs, the funds are the latest in what Gabbay and Immerso hope is a continuing trend toward stability for the camp.

The organization relies primarily on volunteer support at the moment and does not yet have the funds to hire a director or pay employees; a capacity-building grant from the Aspen Community Foundation earlier this year helps support Gabbay’s grant-writing and consulting work for the camp, according to Gabbay.

“We’re just in a positive, forward momentum for fundraising,” Immerso said.


Summer in Snowmass felt busy, busy, busy. Data shows it actually was.

Mountain bikers and sightseers flocked to the Elk Camp area Oct. 3 at Snowmass Resort for the last day of lift-served summer service. The resort is scheduled to open Nov. 25 for the 2021-22 ski season.
David Krause / Snowmass Sun

Take a look at the Snowmass Village summer occupancy charts of a few years back and you’re bound to see peaks and troughs, with busy weekends that passed the 90% occupancy mark and definitively quiet weekdays that sometimes dipped under 20%.

In tourism director Rose Abello’s eyes, “it really looked like an EKG,” she said in an interview. And heartbeat patterns, while good for humans, aren’t the strongest signs of vitality when it comes to resort town visitation stats.

It’s been a goal for years to level out those summer occupancy charts and “fill the troughs” in summer occupancy statistics with a boost in weekday visitation, Abello said.

Abello can now consider that a mission accomplished, according to data presented to Snowmass Village Town Council on Oct. 18 and to the Marketing, Group Sales and Special Events Board on Oct. 15. This year’s late-season chart looks a lot more like an arc than a series of spikes; there are still a few notable dips, but they’re showing up later in the season.

“We did it,” she said — “we,” in this case, referring not to the tourism department but to the entire village community, including the restaurants and hotels that feed and support those visitors.

That filling of the troughs could be one of the reasons this summer seemed as busy as it did in the village, Abello said. Events like the Snowmass Rodeo and Thursday night concert series on Fanny Hill logged notably strong numbers all season, and it turns out that hotel occupancy shook out well, too.

A large crowd enjoys the music by Pandas & People during the first Thursday night Fanny Hill Concert in Snowmass Village of the summer on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Paid occupancy rates for the months of June (47%), July (76%), August (61%) and September (56%) were all significantly higher than they were in the pandemic summer of 2020 — no surprise there.

Even so, the monthly averages were otherwise relatively on par with stats from 2018 and 2019, according to charts generated by the occupancy tracking software DestiMetrics. And the numbers still pale in comparison to a typical, non-COVID winter, when the peak months of January, February and March all average in the 70% to 80% occupancy range.

The difference, Abello said, is that this year the visitation was more consistent throughout the week.

“We had some random Tuesday when we’re in the 90s, and that is a game-changer that is actually what we’ve been after since I’ve been here, certainly,” Abello said. “And I say ‘we’ as the big, big community. … We (the tourism department) are just part of a machine.”

Crunching the numbers

The “smoothing” in visitation could also be one of many factors that contributed to significantly higher lodging revenue for hotels and the subsequent spike in lodging tax revenue for the town, Rose Abello said.

Lodging tax in July jumped more than 70%, ringing in at roughly $208,000 in 2021 compared to $121,000 in 2020. In August, a 44% increase brought in nearly $153,000 in 2021 compared to $106,000 in 2020.

The average daily room rate is another factor in that jump; more revenue doesn’t necessarily mean more heads in beds so much as the heads willing to pay more to stay in those beds.

The boost in revenues would be significant even compared to non-COVID years, when July lodging tax usually lands right between $100,000 and $150,000 and August lodging tax tends to track just over $100,000.

Abello noted that it’s small potatoes compared to typical winters, when the busiest months in the busiest years have neared the $500,000 mark.

Abello also noted that there may have been more presence from part-time residents this summer who might otherwise only pop in for a couple of weeks during the season; those numbers aren’t tracked in lodging stats, but anecdotal evidence about pandemic work-from-home provisions suggests that it was easier for part-timers to stick around longer in Snowmass because they didn’t have to return to the office at the end of their vacations.

So what does it all mean for the future of summers in Snowmass? Will next year feel as busy as this one?

Abello isn’t so sure about that.

“I am hesitant to claim that this is like the new normal, and this is the way it is going forward,” Abello said. “I think we are still in a very big time of transition.”

And it’s hard to tell what that transition will mean in the next months, seasons and years, she said.

“We don’t know where the shift is going to happen next,” she said. “And what I mean by that is, are we going to go back to 100% of how we were in our lifestyle, pursuits, our requirements at the offices, the amount of free time we get? … Is society going go back there? Is it going to take a whole degree turn to the right and say OK, now that people can work remotely they can do that all the time? Or is it going to be somewhere in the middle? And I think most people would say it’s going to be somewhere in the middle.”


Snowmass briefs: Leave your leaves in Town Park compost bin

Leaf composting available at Town Park

The fall leaf composting bin is back at Town Park for community members to dispose of fall leaves only. The bin will remain in place at the back parking lot of the community rodeo grounds as weather allows, according to the town website.

Residents can take leaves to the composting station instead of community dumpsters; the town asks that property managers and landscaping companies not use the bin to toss yard waste from multiple properties, since it’s intended for resident use from individual private property.

Leaves are the only permitted items for the composting bin. Trash, non-compostable items, branches, lawn clippings, logs and wood are not permitted.

Boards and commissions now accepting applications

There are at least 34 positions up for grabs on Snowmass Village boards and commissions for the next round of appointments; the town is now accepting applications for the existing vacancies and seats that will open up when terms end on Dec. 31.

Applications must be filled out online by Nov. 19. For a full list of vacancies and more information on the application process, visit https://bit.ly/3aUsIx4.

Brush Creek Trail now closed to dogs

The Brush Creek Trail between Highway 82 and Town Park has closed to dogs for the winter season to protect wildlife, according to a Pitkin County Open Space alert.

It remains open to human use through the end of November; it closes to all use for the season on Dec. 1.

Original Niehues map of Snowmass for sale

A rare hand-painted original map of Snowmass Ski Area will be auctioned off as part of a limited release of works by prolific ski area artist James Niehues.

Niehues, who has hand-painted more than 200 ski resorts over an extensive artistic career, announced this fall that he would be stepping away from trail maps to focus on other projects and released the first set of originals Oct. 19.

The 1991 Snowmass map and a 1994 Telluride map are among the most rare items in the artist’s collection; 100% of the proceeds from both auctions will support the Colorado Snowsports Museum and Hall of Fame.

A pair of Wagner Custom Skis with the winner’s choice of a Snowmass or Telluride topsheet is also part of the auction fundraising effort for the museum. Bidding takes place on Ebay and ends at noon Oct. 28.

Niehues is also selling 25 framed, signed and numbered limited edition canvas prints each of Snowmass and Telluride and is auctioning several other ski area maps. For more information, visit bit.ly/3FZ7o81.

Submit listings for our community briefs to kwilliams@aspentimes.com.

Snowmass Town Council still circling around the roundabout conundrum

Vehicles utilize the intersection of Brush Creek Rd. and Owl Creek Rd. in Snowmass Village on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

A brief check-in on a proposed roundabout during budget review talks veered into a half-hour detour into the details of proposed intersection improvements at Owl Creek and Brush Creek roads during a long-haul Snowmass Village Town Council meeting Oct. 18.

There are $550,000 allocated in the proposed 2022 budget to help bring the roundabout from the current 30% design stage to the 50% mark.

The question, coming from Mayor Bill Madsen, was: “Is this something we’re going forward with?”

Council hasn’t totally landed on a solid answer to that just yet. For all the merits of the roundabout — better flow, pedestrian safety, traffic calming and access to emergency services are among the pros, and some infrastructure under the roadway has to be addressed anyways — there are still sticking points like community support and timing to address.

Councilman Tom Goode recognized the need for updates to the interaction at Owl Creek and Brush Creek Road. It’s “inevitable,” he said. But he has some reservations about spending more than half a million dollars for a roundabout design in 2022.

“I’m certain it’s going to help, there’s no doubt it’s going to help,” Goode said. “I’m just having a hard time deciding that $500,000 just for a design — doesn’t even mean anybody’s going to put a shovel in the ground yet — that’s a lot of money.”

Councilman Tom Fridstein, for his part, would like to see more information and have a thorough rundown of the project; as the newest member of the council, he’d like to get up to speed before heading too far down the road with designs.

But “I don’t think you can have a full discussion without a full design. … It’s taken us seven years to get to this 30% design, and we’re saying, ‘We think we’re right, we think we need to continue this forward, and it’s the right project,’” Town Manager Clint Kinney said.

Designs would take a year, possibly more, Kinney said. Moving forward would not lock the town into the project, but the designs would help address a lot of the council’s inquiries about infrastructure logistics, necessity and functionality of the roundabout.

And Councilman Bob Sirkus, who has long maintained hesitance about the necessity of the roundabout, questioned whether there’s substantial community support or even demand for the change. A 2019 community survey indicated the majority of respondents weren’t bothered by the intersection.

With those numbers in mind, Councilwoman Alyssa Shenk questioned whether user satisfaction should be driving whether the town moves forward. There are, after all, factors other than traffic, like pedestrian safety, infrastructure repairs and fire department access.

“This question keeps coming up: Does the community want this?” Shenk said. “But it goes back to my thing is, does the community really understand all the issues? … I’m not sure how well-informed people are to all the other issues that have to do with that intersection.”

In a similar vein, Kinney noted, “we need to have this design done so people can understand what the improvement would look like.”

Skirkus expressed concern of that perennial topic in Snowmass development conversations: community character.

“It’s another serious change to the character of the community,” Sirkus said, noting the impact that previous roundabouts like the one at Wood Road and Brush Creek.

It’s not necessarily a bad change, though, in the eyes of Shenk and Madsen.

“I think you’d be really hard-pressed to find someone who wishes it was the way it was before,” Shenk said of the improvements at those intersections.

“I would agree, those roundabouts changed the feeling of the community — to the better, in my opinion. … I think it’s about creating an atmosphere that is very welcoming and safe and makes it look like we know what we’re doing,” Madsen added.

Timing is also a factor, Sirkus said: why now and not later?

“It’s not going to get any better,” Kinney noted. And that community survey still had nearly a third of respondents who were dissatisfied, he pointed out.

“It’s like a Catch-22,” according to Shenk, who said she understands the concerns about the community. “I don’t want to look back five years from now and be like, ‘We should have done this already, it’s a nightmare.’”

“We can kick this can down the road or move forward,” Madsen added.

Madsen, Shenk and Goode were all in favor of the latter and taking the next steps in the design process; Sirkus and Fridstein were still reluctant, but the fund allocation will remain in the proposed budget for now.


Snowmass officials urge coyote caution for pet owners

A coyote trots beside Owl Creek Road in Snowmass on Monday, April 12, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Snowmass Village officials are urging pet owners to practice extra caution with their pets this season after a series of recent wildlife conflicts, according to Animal Services Officer Lauren Martenson.

The town has received reports of at least four dogs and one cat lost in wildlife encounters, with coyotes confirmed as culprits in a couple of those incidents, Martenson said.

And it’s not just out in the wilderness and on the trails where owners need to exercise caution. Martenson noted “increased reports of coyotes acting a little bit more brazen” and exhibiting “more of a kind of stalking behavior,” she said. One owner reported that their pet was taken almost immediately after being let outside, almost as if the coyote was watching and waiting.

“Be extra cautious between (dusk and dawn),” Martenson advised, as that’s when coyotes tend to be most active.

Owners should keep pets on a leash, keep a close eye on those pets at all times outdoors and be prepared to pick up their pets in the event of a close encounter; Martenson recommends that people actively discourage a coyote from coming closer, even if that means throwing sticks or small rocks.

A Colorado Parks and Wildlife coyote tipsheet shared by the town recommends that those with coyote concerns should recreate during daylight hours, carry a walking stick and deterrent spray and have noise makers or rocks on hand to throw. Pet owners should keep animals on a short leash, use extra caution between dusk and dawn, avoid den sites and should not allow pets to interact with coyotes.

In the event of a close encounter, people should not run or turn their backs and instead face the coyote and back away slowly; the department also recommends that people “be as big and loud as possible” and “wave your arms and throw objects.”

So far, there have not been any known conflicts between coyotes and humans traveling alone.

As for why Snowmass Village has been subject to the increase in coyote attacks on pets, “it’s all reflective of their food source,” she said. There is currently a “robust” population of coyotes fueled by plentiful food in previous seasons, and Martenson said there might also be a decline in the population of other small mammals in the wild that would normally feed that population.

Coyotes are “super adaptive and brazen and opportunistic predators,” Martenson said. As animals and humans continue to exist in close proximity in the town, the predators are growing less fearful in populated areas and are even less likely to be deterred by humans nearby.


This story has been updated to correct information about when coyotes are most active; people should be extra cautious between dusk and dawn.

Snowmass history: Hunting for game — and a place to stay

Loey Ringquist stands at a fence holding a dog, likely at her Faraway Ranch in Snowmass Village in 1967.
Aspen Historical Society Aspen Illustrated News Collection/Courtesy photo

With fall comes hunting season, and the papers were full of dates reminding locals of the opening and closing of each season including fishing, turkey, elk, deer, bear, rabbit, pheasant, quail and big horn sheep. There were also lots of advertisements for guides, private ranches and places to rent.

In the October 21, 1960 Aspen Times, an advertisement was placed by Loey Ringquist for her ranch up Brush Creek in what is now a neighborhood of Snowmass Village: “At Faraway Ranch: hunting accommodations — cabin, bunkhouse or camp — horses for riding or packing out game — jeep and truck.”

Roger Marolt: A little-too-odd job

Roger Marolt for the Snowmass Sun
Kelsey Brunner/Snowmass Sun

Dear Ask Ann,

I have a dilemma regarding my wife and friend. I will call my friend “Bill,” because that’s what he goes by, but I bet it’s really “William.” I would like to know your opinion on this, but that will be a topic for another letter, which I will send next week. I hope you got the others. I will call my wife “my wife” to protect her identity.

Anyway, I barely know where to begin — but don’t worry, I will anyway. First of all, Bill is my neighbor in the small town of Snowmass Village, Colorado. You never know what he wants when he walks in your door. He still acts like a Minnesotan even though he has lived here almost 50 years. He loves talking and beer. He is also the HOA president and I always get the feeling he is checking out our place for violations. He stole the job from me years ago, but hey, I don’t hold grudges.

I have a strategy to control conversations with him. He is a builder and so I keep a list of things that need to be done around our house and I throw projects at him before he has time to settle onto a stool at our kitchen counter. The downside is that this gets him looking around at some of my DIY improvements, which he loves to laugh at.

But this isn’t the problem for today, either. Details for that will come in yet another letter to you. I will be sending a “save the date” note beforehand, so you can set some time aside to give it your full attention. By the way, I assume you are compiling all my letters to answer in a new book. I can’t wait!

At any rate, the problem today is not that Bill takes on most of the projects. It’s that my wife enjoys doing them with him!

I noticed this a few years ago when we redid a bathroom. I thought he would take care of everything, but she jumped in and started picking out tile and fixtures and such. He encouraged her input, sharing ideas and design options of his own. Sure, they invited me to talk about these things, but to be honest, I felt like a plumber without a plunger on those occasions.

Anyway, I didn’t think too much more about this, then a couple of weeks ago Bill and his wife (name not given to protect the innocent) joined me and my wife at a mountain cabin to winterize it. One of the chores was to dig out the well.

Here is where it gets kind of weird: Both Bill and my wife seemed to enjoy the project from the start! I admit the weather was perfect out there with the stunningly beautiful mountains surrounding us. Honestly, we all enjoyed it. We also ended up repairing the chimney, getting the shower house functional, washing the windows and basically making the place look better than it has in years. It was satisfying, no doubt, but still work after all.

I tried to put this idea of “fun work” out of my mind. I suggested a bushwhacking hike through the quagmire to nowhere to match my mood. We actually stumbled upon parts from an old airplane that must have crashed there decades ago. We took a group selfie in front of some mining ruins. We found an abandoned (or forgotten) hammock in the middle of nowhere that was creepy, to say the least. It worked to take my mind off things.

I thought my wife’s enthusiasm for doing projects with Bill was behind us. Then, this past weekend, we were sitting around drinking coffee and the two of them decided it was a good morning to hook up the ice maker on our new fridge. To make a long story short, they sent me to the hardware store for parts while they “got started.”

Well, lo and behold, when I got back the kitchen was a mess, sawdust, tools and empty coffee cups everywhere. In the middle of the chaos, Bill and my wife were on the floor, one under the sink and the other behind the stove stringing a chord to pull the flexible water line through. My jaw dropped!

I think you can see where I’m heading here. Obviously Bill and my wife have no intention of ending these projects together. My question to you is this: How do we turn it into a profitable business?

Roger Marolt loves living in a small town and good neighborhood with no fences. Email him at roger@maroltllp.com.

Several factors contribute to twice-as-pricey transit center in Snowmass

A Snowmass Village Shuttle bus pulls into the Daly Lane bus depot at the Snowmass Mall. A new transit center could eventually replace the depot with a hub for Village Shuttle buses as well as Roaring Fork Transportation Authority service near the entrance to the mall, though costs for that project have doubled from initial projections.
Snowmass Sun/File photo

Snowmass Village officials aren’t exactly thrilled about the latest cost projections for a new transit center on the Snowmass Mall, which have come in at nearly $26.2 million — more than double the original price tag of $13 million.

“A little disappointing” is the phrase Mayor Bill Madsen used at Monday’s Town Council meeting that included an owner’s review of the project. “Overwhelming” was Councilwoman Alyssa Shenk’s description during the discussion. Councilman Tom Fridstein said his confidence was “hugely shaken.”

“Am I happy with the price? No, I’m not. I’m frustrated just like everybody else,” Transportation Director David Peckler said at the meeting.

But with all the “sweat equity” that’s gone into the project already, Peckler and other planners aren’t throwing in the towel — far from it. They are already looking for solutions to cover the gap and cut costs where it’s practical, he said.

But why does it actually cost so much more now? There are a number of factors in play, Peckler said Tuesday in a follow-up phone call.

For one, that $13 million quote was produced back around 2019-20; factor in inflation and the total jumps up a couple of millions.

It was also just an “Opinion of Probable Cost,” a kind of “very rough sketch” calculated based on general, ballpark figures of construction costs that may not have accounted for higher prices in mountain communities like Snowmass Village, Peckler said. The “Rough Order of Magnitude” calculation that produced the $26 million figure uses numbers that are closer to reality with quotes from subcontractors.

Then there are significant design updates from the past two years. Those include the addition of a second story to the building at the heart of the transit hub, relocation of the connecting road between upper Brush Creek Road and lower Carriage Way and expanded scope of the snowmelt system that keeps that road clear. All of those real changes come with real costs attached.

And more advances in the design process also have come with more details on soils in the area and what costs will be associated with building a stable platform.

Altogether, new information, more pricing details and project changes were among the factors that brought that total up so high. Next, it’s time to fill in the gaps through new sources of funding.

Town staff are preparing to apply for a $13.5 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration’s Bus and Bus Facilities Program to make up the gap, town documents indicate.

“I’m going to cross my fingers that Mr, Peckler can write a grant like hell because I know he can,” Town Manager Clint Kinney said at the meeting.


Kaya Williams: Inside Out

Kaya Williams, reporter for the Aspen Times and Snowmass Sun

Every time I report on mental health in the Roaring Fork Valley, I hear the same two messages: One, that our unparalleled access to the outdoors in this valley is an outstanding resource for solace and healing when we struggle with our mental health, and two, that it is perfectly OK to struggle with mental health in a mecca for outdoor recreation and natural beauty.

I cling to that first message, and I always have. The trails are my place of bliss and relief and release. Rolling, smooth singletrack helps me space out when I’m overwhelmed; steep technical terrain helps me manufacture a distraction when I need to force a reset.

It’s not by coincidence that my highest highs (and comebacks from some of my lower lows) have all come surrounded by snow and dirt and rocks and trees at altitudes well above sea level. I seek out the pain cave on steep, tough climbs because it is rewarding, sure, but also because I know that if I’m focused on how my legs and my lungs feel then I’m less likely to spiral deep into my thoughts; I spend time in the mountains seeking joy, yes, but also an escape from the things in life that aren’t so joyful.

I don’t think I’m the only one in this valley with that penchant for outdoor escapism. It’s probably the reason a lot of us came here in the first place. It’s easy to ignore what’s challenging us when we’re concentrating on flow trails and route-finding; besides, exercise releases endorphins, sunlight can yield serotonin, and we’ve got plenty of access to both. Even on a day that royally, cosmically sucks, we know we can sneak out the back door with our boots or bikes or skis in tow and feel a little better than we did before we left.

Maybe that’s why I find the latter message — that despite our surroundings, there will still be times we struggle with our mental health — so much harder to accept.

If I’m here because the outdoors are so key to my wellbeing, then what am I supposed to do when the usual mental health fixes — a long run in the backcountry, a few hours in the mountains — aren’t working as well as they used to?

At first, I thought it was a good kind of problem to have: the more time I spent recreating outside, the more I wanted and needed to recreate outside to keep my head screwed on straight. Whenever I was overwhelmed or vexed or struggling to articulate how I felt, I knew I could hit the trails and feel the problems melt away.

I figured it couldn’t hurt if it required a few more miles or a bit more elevation gain to get back on solid footing; smiles per hour beget more smiles per hour, right?

The feelings didn’t actually get resolved. They just got deferred. And in September, compounded by a work schedule I knowingly overpacked and a series of comically escalating car troubles brought about by a combination of hubris and misfortune, those confusing, stressful, overwhelming emotions I had so adamantly denied all summer steamrolled me.

Ignoring the dread wasn’t an effective solution anymore. I know because I tried, and on the longest run of the season, 15 miles through groves of golden aspens and forested trails that would normally elicit a big fat goofy grin and a lighter skip in my step, I couldn’t escape the deadweight feeling in the pit of my stomach.

I didn’t know what to do, because all I’ve ever done when I need to feel better is go outside. It was foolproof, until it wasn’t.

Logic and several phone calls with my mom suggested that time, rest and patience would help me address some of the things that were sucking me in, but even that was a hard pill to swallow without the deferral-by-distraction method I’ve relied on my whole life.

I still don’t really have a solution for now, except to write about it here. Maybe it means I start placing less emphasis on outdoor recreation as the be-all and end-all for wellbeing; it’s just one of many resources we have in this valley for mental health, though my own stubbornness and resistance to change means it will probably take me longer than most to embrace the alternatives.

In the meantime, I’ll probably still be out there on the trails almost every day of the week, trying to figure it out one mile at a time.

Kaya Williams would like to acknowledge that her mom was right, by the way: sometimes, it takes a bit of time, a few deep breaths and a bit of collective problem-solving to get back on solid ground. She covers education and the town of Snowmass Village for the Aspen Times and the Snowmass Sun; email her at kwilliams@aspentimes.com.

Snowmass Transit Center could cost double earlier estimates, more like $26 million

A rendering by design firm SEH shows a two-story iteration of the proposed transit center on the Snowmass Mall with the entrance angled toward the corridor next to Gene Taylor's Sports as presented to the Snowmass Village Town Council on July 12.
Town of Snowmass Village/Courtesy image

Next year is supposed to be a big year for the Snowmass Village transit center, a project that would bring a new public transportation hub with easy pedestrian access to the Snowmass Mall.

It’s currently slated to receive $13 million in funding next year, according to the proposed 2022 town budget that’s currently under review; that includes $6 million from the local Elected Officials Transportation Committee, $4.5 million from the state, $500,000 from Roaring Fork Transportation Authority and $2 million from the town’s own coffers.

Here’s the catch: It could cost nearly double what planners initially projected.

The current 2022 budget for the project is based on an “Opinion of Probable Cost” that penciled out about $12 million for the proposal based on conceptual drawings and layout a couple of years ago, according to town documents. (An extra $1 million for contingencies brought the total up to $13 million.)

But the design process has come a long way since those numbers were quoted; the project is now at the 50% design stage and R.A. Nelson is on board as the general contractor.

And R.A. Nelson projects the center could actually cost $26.2 million, including more than $24 million for construction costs and another nearly $2 million for contingencies and fees, according to a mid-September cost estimate summary included in this week’s town council packet. The general contractor reviewed the plans and worked out a “Rough Order of Magnitude” cost projection last month.

Town Council is slated to discuss the transit center and that whopping price tag at Monday night’s regular meeting, when both the 2022 budget and another round of owner’s review on the transit center are on the agenda.

(An owner’s review is different from a land use review; the former is an opportunity to provide feedback on the design from the perspective of “the owner” — in this case, the town, weighing in how the center looks and fits with the character of the town — whereas the latter is a legal process that will ensure the design meets town codes and regulations.)

That $26 million is a whole lot more dough than council members had in mind at the last owner’s review during a council work session on July 12, when the focus of the conversation was mostly about balancing the form and aesthetics of the building with its functions. But the new cost estimates won’t be a total surprise to the council; Town Manager Clint Kinney gave council a heads up that project costs had doubled during a project update with transportation director David Peckler at a regular council meeting on Sept. 20.

It’s unlikely that project costs will get any lower moving forward, according to an agenda summary for the transit center discussion slated for Monday. Staff and planners had hoped that a followup cost estimate and updated designs from the past month might produce numbers that would be at least a little easier to digest than the $26 million figure quoted in September, but that doesn’t seem to be the case, town documents indicate.

“Unfortunately, as the detailed designs continued to be developed and the project went ‘to market’ for true bid estimates, the cost did not go down,” the agenda summary states. “The construction cost actually remained similar, but with the addition of contingency accounts and other real costs, the overall construction budget increased.”

Town staff and planners will continue to work to find ways to keep costs in check, but with the designs already halfway to final, it’s unlikely that the overall concept will see significant changes, according to town documents.

“In order (for) this project to proceed and go under contract for construction, significant additional funds would need to be found and approved,” the agenda summary states.

Those funds could include more grants to supplement the existing monies that the state and other local agencies are chipping in; town staff are gearing up to apply for a $13.5 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration’s Bus and Bus Facilities Program to cover the difference, town documents indicate.