Aspen Community School to sell lots
December 7, 2007
WOODY CREEK ” In an effort to raise needed cash, the Aspen Community School is on the verge of selling two large single-family home sites, equaling roughly 80 percent of the 200 acres the Woody Creek school occupies.
Even so, school officials say they will still have plenty of room left to run their educational programs and expand into new buildings, if warranted.
The school, which provides progressive, experiential education to students in grades K-8, has been working on the plan since 2005. That’s when it got permission from Pitkin County to carve off a total of 148 acres of the school’s property.
The two parcels originally were sized at 55 acres and 93 acres. But this month, the school will ask Pitkin County for permission to add more than 14 acres to the combined two-lot total, because of an unexpected complication involving a neighboring landowner.
The addition last week was recommended for approval by the Pitkin County Planning and Zoning Commission, and has received the endorsement of the Woody Creek Planning Commission.
The move is partly in order to satisfy some long-standing financial obligations, and partly to create a permanent endowment fund.
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The obligations, said Skye Skinner, executive director, include a commitment to provide four affordable housing units for employees, make safety improvements to the road leading to the school from the Woody Creek Road, fix up the school’s relatively outdated septic system, and retire some of what’s left of a $2.1 million debt incurred to establish the Carbondale Community School, a sister facility to the Aspen Community School.
Whatever is left, according to Skinner, would be used to set up an endowment for the school. Interest from the endowment, Skinner said, could provide income to bolster what she called the school’s “extremely lean public school budget.”
Planner Jim Curtis, who serves on the school’s board of directors and has shepherded the plans through local government channels, said the original plans called for the building envelopes of the two lots to be located north of the Salvation Ditch, which runs across the mesa above the school.
But an agreement with neighboring landowners, written into the 1972 deeds setting up the school site, prohibit any development north of the ditch. That has necessitated the proposed changes to the school’s plans, in order to provide enough additional land so the building envelopes can be on the south side of the ditch.
Curtis and other officials have said there will be sufficient land left for the school’s needs, including the possible addition of new buildings if the school outgrows its present facilities.
The school’s founder, Woody Creek rancher George Stranahan, donated the land to establish the school in the early 1970s, and only recently stepped back from an active management role at the facility.
He said of the school’s plans to sell the land, “It isn’t what I would have done. I would try to come up with income generating possibilities rather than just sell it for homes.”
He explained that, in his view, “When you sell your assets ” and that’s what land is, an asset ” it’s called liquidation,” although he conceded that selling land seems to be “the one thing that makes money in this valley.”
One idea, he said, would be to set up a cemetery on the land, which he said would be a low-impact, high-profit enterprise that, with the right kind of management, could provide a steady source of income for years to come.
“I mean, wouldn’t you like to be buried on a nice mesa like that one, with a view like that?” he asked, stressing that he was “dead serious” and that his idea could be accomplished “with dignity, of course,” and would “appeal to the gambling spirit in everybody.”
The school’s headmaster, Jim Gilchrist, chuckled when he heard the suggestion.
“I really like George, he’s a heck of a guy and something of a philosopher,” Gilchrist remarked, but added that, “in terms of the practicality of running a school, I think the board is really wise to do this [sell the property].”
The school’s proposal for modifying its approvals is scheduled to go before the Pitkin County Commissioners in January.