Aspen campus upgrades include energy efficiency, school safety

Aspen School District turns into a construction zone for summer work

Aspen School District Superintendent David Baugh gestures toward facilities work at Aspen High School on Thursday, July 14, 2022.
Kaya Williams/The Aspen Times

Over the course of this year, the Aspen School District will spend nearly $29 million on campus work from its $114 million bond dedicated to facilities maintenance and housing, according to district Superintendent David Baugh and Bob Daniel, who’s part of the owner’s representative team for the bond. 

On the ground, those dollars translate to some work that will directly impact the student experience and other work that’s more behind the scenes of campus operations. 

The roof of the science wing at the high school won’t leak anymore, for one thing. New carpeting is going into the elementary school; durable, slip-resistant rubber flooring replaces the current slick surfaces at the high school. 

A deteriorated terrace at the elementary school is getting back into a sturdier shape; an outdoor staircase leading to the high school that had been closed for safety purposes during the school year had become a mound of dirt by the time of the tour, soon to take shape a new set of steps that’s safe for use. 

“Landscaping and hardscaping” work will implement more drought-resistant vegetation, new sidewalks and drainage improvements, Daniel said. Some of that work is already happening outside the high school, where the usual lawns had turned into a full-on construction zone.

And right now, it’s all very much in progress. A tour with Daniel, Baugh and Haselden Construction superintendent David Hanen warranted hard hats, safety glasses and close-toed shoes for a walk through the campus on July 14. Most of the campus is currently closed to the public on account of the work.

Most of the work this summer is happening at the elementary school, which is the oldest facility, and at the high school. The newer middle school didn’t have as many needs. 

Some of the work is behind the scenes (and behind the walls and concrete), with the impact more felt than seen: more efficient fuel systems, a new snowmelt system, updates to building cooling and electrical systems. 

Safety and security upgrades account for some of the work this summer too; the district had already committed $5.2 million to that category by mid-June, according to a June 13 bond update for the Board of Education. The final dollar amount spent is subject to change as projects (and their costs) shift.

It’s one of the largest chunks of the bond spending to date, third only to deferred maintenance ($18.5 million committed by mid-June) and housing acquisition, upgrades and maintenance ($15.1 million committed by mid-June). 

“It’s not a very popular topic or very popular thing, from the standpoint of taking what historically in the community has been a very open campus, but we’re in 2022, and the district … has made an extreme commitment to ensuring that students and teachers are safe,” Daniel said. 

The most noticeable safety and security improvement on campus by the start of school in late August may be entrance control at each building. At the elementary school, a new double-door vestibule with a check-in area is taking shape where previously there was just one row of doors leading into an open common area. 

The middle school already has a vestibule at its main entrance. At the high school, which has entrances on both sides of the building, Baugh said plans in the works for next summer are to redesignate the entrance near the high school parking lot as the main entrance to the school with a vestibule and check-in area. 

An audio-visual monitoring and access system is in place at the elementary and middle schools; the high school is “under review for that,” Baugh said

Bilingual signage is also going into place and other upgrades to life safety and monitoring systems are in the plans, though some components for some security systems may arrive later due to supply chain issues.

“We’re actually hamstrung based upon the supply chain relative to some of the materials that are necessary to completely integrate that security,” Daniel said.  

“Over the course of the year, we’ll finish those projects,” Baugh added. 

Supply chain issues are also impacting other work funded by the bond, according to Daniel. 

The district also is spending some bond funds on sustainability efforts, with $2.1 million committed by mid-June of this year, according to the June 13 bond update. That translates to initiatives like photovoltaic energy systems (think solar panels) and more efficient fuel systems; bond funding also supports some of the infrastructure needed for four electric school buses and some chargers that the district purchased with a grant. 

The fuel efficiency is part of Daniel’s defense of the snowmelt system, which he recognized some people might characterize as “not very environmentally friendly.” He also suggested that there’s also a carbon footprint associated with people coming up to the campus and physically removing the snow.

Some improvements don’t fit neatly into one category: New windows, for instance, check the boxes for deferred maintenance, learning environment work and net-zero efforts.

Planners conducted a “pretty thorough investigation” of the needs on campus, so there haven’t been too many big curveballs in terms of the scope of the work — “less surprises than one might think on a project of this magnitude,” Daniel said. 

But rising construction costs have been a thorn in the district’s side this year that poked at some of the projects initially suggested during the bond campaign. 

Plans for improvements to the Aspen District Theater got dinged on that front; because it’s a community asset, Daniel said there may be opportunities to reach out to the community to assist with funding improvements. 

And plans for a new building to house The Cottage preschool and district administrative offices got tabled in the spring. A modular classroom solution for The Cottage that the Board of Education approved as an alternative also got nixed shortly thereafter, when planners discovered it was “no longer a cost effective solution” when they took the cost of site development into account, Baugh said. 

So for now, the preschool is getting a fresh coat of paint and an “interior redo” in what Baugh describes as a spruce-up. 

“Inflation has really hampered our ability to deliver on a brand new Cottage, so, as of now, we’re in kind of a holding pattern,” Baugh said. “We’re doing the best we can with what we have, and, you know, we’re guardedly optimistic that things will get better”