Area nonprofits team up to pursue affordable campus in Carbondale
November 1, 2006
Nonprofit organizations live life like ski bums: They either bounce around cramped quarters that are easy on their limited incomes, or they devote an ungodly sum to better digs.An alliance of 10 nonprofits hopes to change that plight. The groups aim to create a campus in Carbondale that provides a permanent, affordable home for nonprofits and an atmosphere where the collective energy helps them flourish.The alliance, called the Sustainability Center of the Rockies, signed a contract Tuesday to buy a 5.65-acre chunk of the Colorado Rocky Mountain School property in Carbondale for an undisclosed amount, according to Tim McFlynn, co-director of the new organization. The Sustainability Center has a year to raise the funds to complete the deal, he said.The alliance reads like a who’s who list of midvalley nonprofit organizations and influential individuals in the field. Groups like Wilderness Workshop and Solar Energy International are part of the alliance, and individuals like energy-efficiency gurus Amory Lovins and Randy Udall are among the advisors.The alliance has launched a fundraising campaign to buy the land and build the first phase of affordable office buildings, McFlynn said. He said it was premature to disclose how much the organization is trying to raise.Founders of the campaign hope to open the campus in 2008. McFlynn said the first phase includes a vision of 10,000 square feet of offices divided into small buildings. He said the model is Anderson Ranch, which added small buildings of a distinctive style as demand warranted over several years.McFlynn said the founders have little doubt they can create the campus, giving Carbondale distinction as a home for nonprofit groups focused on conservation, renewable energy and social justice.”People pull off world-class things in this valley,” he said.Doug Graybeal, president of the Sustainability Center’s board of directors, added, “We’re on the cusp of a good thing here.”The site, nearly six acres, is part of the Colorado Rocky Mountain School’s campus, west of Highway 133. A big part of the Sustainability Center’s mission will be to inspire students valleywide on sustainable-living practices, McFlynn said.The nonprofits will achieve that not only through their programs but also by building a campus that uses state-of-the-art green-building techniques.McFlynn said nearly all the focus right now is on raising the funds to make the vision a reality. Details on running the campus must still be refined. The Sustainability Center likely will build all the office space and rent it out using criteria on what types of organizations are eligible. In addition to nonprofits, entrepreneurs focused on “sustainability” will also be eligible, according to a press release from the alliance. McFlynn said the idea is to avoid having a business such as a dentist or retail shop set up space there.While some of the office space may be sold rather than rented, the primary goal is to help nonprofits secure affordable homes with long-term leases, McFlynn said. He cited Wilderness Workshop, the valley’s oldest local conservation organization, as an example. McFlynn, who is president of Wilderness Workshop’s board of directors, said the organization had to vacate a spot in the Yellow Brick building in Aspen last year and now is living on a month-to-month lease in a space in Carbondale destined for redevelopment.It is a high priority for him to secure a permanent home for Wilderness Workshop during his watch. Find that home is important, he said, for more than financial reasons. A permanent home “gives you a sense of place, an identity,” he said.The 10 nonprofits or entrepreneurs interested in the first phase of the campus range in age from five to 39 years and average 17, according to information from the Sustainability Center. They employ the equivalent of 44 full-time employees and have combined annual operating budgets of $3 million.In addition to local nonprofits, creation of the campus will likely attract national and regional conservation organizations, McFlynn said. Highly regarded organizations like The Nature Conservancy and The Wilderness Society desire a greater presence in the valley but have balked over lack of space at affordable prices, he said.The Sustainability Center plans to release more details of the plan and potential tenants as the fundraising campaign evolves.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.