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Aspen Valley Hospital to buy

Aspen Times Staff Report

With a last-minute change of heart by several of its members, the Aspen Valley Hospital board of directors on Monday voted unanimously to buy the Beaumont Inn and convert it to affordable housing for hospital workers.

The board, which had been vacillating about the purchase for more than a month, agreed to pay $4.83 million for the property, which had been on the market for a reported price of $5.1 million.

“The financials don’t work,” stated board member Chuck Torinus, who had been one of the stalwart opponents of the purchase on grounds of fiscal responsibility. “This is an investment the hospital is making, and I’m not sure the hospital can handle it. I’m vitally concerned about the financial risk.”

But, he declared, “I’m going to change my vote tonight and vote `yes.'”

He said he is just as concerned about the hospital’s ability to hire and keep good workers and added, “This is not going to be easy. Maybe it’s the right thing to do and the right time to do it.”

Other board members followed suit, agreeing that the deal is risky but needed.

Hospital administrator Randy Middlebrook said that during negotiations with the owners of the small lodge, located on the east side of town, the hospital had at one point offered to pay $4.95 million.

But when the second of two hospital-ordered appraisals set the inn’s value at $4.83 million, the owners agreed to sell for that price, Middlebrook told the hospital board at its Monday night meeting.

AVH Chief Financial Officer Verna Bartlett said the hospital currently pays some $295,000 per year in housing subsidies for 43 units. The Beaumont deal, she said, will raise that to nearly $891,000 for 75 units.

“We’re not possibly going to be able to satisfy all the demand [for affordable housing],” said board member Tom Griffiths. “But we’re going to keep looking.”

Several staffers, department heads and board members spoke at length about the hospital’s need to step up and provide affordable housing if it ever expects to recruit and retain qualified, well-trained employees.

Middlebrook noted that the hospital had tried about a year ago to buy another of Aspen’s old lodges, the Ullr, but that the deal fell through.

The Ullr has since been converted to an affordable housing project owned by a collection of local businesses and rented to those businesses’ employees.

Although the hospital board’s plan at this point is to turn the Beaumont into affordable housing, it was noted at the board meeting that the final decision has not been made.

After voting on the motion, board chair Meg Haynes made a public plea for others thinking of building or otherwise creating large-scale affordable housing projects in the future to “give the hospital some consideration” as a potential partner.

Middlebrook noted that another nonprofit organization, the Aspen Music Festival and School, has indicated an interest in possibly sharing the Beaumont with the hospital.

Bartlett said the hospital’s housing needs drop in the summer months and that renting to music students or teachers during the music festival’s season might keep some of the Beaumont’s 32 beds from going empty.


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