A $1M surprise at Aspen Middle School | AspenTimes.com

A $1M surprise at Aspen Middle School

John Colson
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” Aspen’s school board got the bad news this week ” it will cost about $1 million more than expected for a legally mandated “asbestos abatement” project at the old Aspen Middle School, which still stands right next to the newly constructed middle school.

And that is money the district had not planned on spending, which may mean cutbacks in other areas, the board members learned.

The board agreed on Monday night to hire ESA, Inc. a Denver-based contractor, to clean up vermiculite, a fire retardant present in the walls of the 30-year-old building.

The price tag for the asbestos removal is to be $927,298. Once that work is finished, the district still will be faced with the cost of tearing down the old school and building playground facilities in its place, although that money is included in the project budget.

Work crews already have completed roughly $300,000 in preliminary work on the asbestos removal project, according to the district’s construction manager, Dave Detwiler.

“It makes me sick,” muttered school board member Ernie Fyrwald under his breath after voting to spend money that the district had not planned to spend.

Superintendent Diana Sirko said last year that the district was caught unaware by a recent change in federal asbestos abatement regulations, which formerly did not mention vermiculite.

Under the new rules vermiculite, a natural substance which has been shown to sometimes contain traces of cancer-causing asbestos, now is on the list of substances that are considered hazardous to human health and must be removed. The work must be done by specially trained and equipped workers.

The project to build a new middle school in an “L” shape around the old middle school was part of a $33 million bond issue authorized by local voters in 2005. The bond proceeds also paid for construction of five new classrooms on one side of the 16-year-old Aspen Elementary School and some work on the mechanical equipment at the District Theater in the elementary school building.

The old school originally was to have been torn down at the end of the summer, when the new school was finished.

But the asbestos abatement requirement, and questions about whether the new school would be finished in time, led school district officials to leave the old building standing. It probably will not be demolished until early next summer, officials have said.

At the school board meeting, board member Fred Peirce asked Detwiler, “So, basically, it’s either spend the money or leave the old building up.”

When the affirmative answer came, Peirce noted that the district might be forced to turn to unexpected funding sources, such as land dedication fees paid by developers, to complete other improvements to the existing school buildings on the Maroon Creek Road campus.

Among the other improvements that were discussed during the bond election campaign was considerable remodeling of the District Theater facility in the elementary school building.

The original plans included relocating the main entrance and lobby to the theater wing of the school, expanding the backstage area and adding dressing room space. But district officials canceled the lobby relocation plans last year in response to unexpected cost overruns in other areas.

School board President Elizabeth Parker directed Sirko to look into the district’s possible financing options for paying for the asbestos abatement, but still taking care of other improvements that the district’s voters might be expecting.


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