Bells ‘uber-toilet’ getting a face lift |

Bells ‘uber-toilet’ getting a face lift

The Maroon Bells Recreation Area has been transformed into a construction site again, but this time the U.S. Forest Service believes the public will like the results.

The toilet that critics claimed was a structure on steroids is receiving a major face lift. A contractor for the federal agency will remove several large boulders and tons of dirt to lower the building’s height, according to Jim Stark, assistant Aspen District Ranger.

The existing concrete facade will be reduced as much as possible to lower the building’s profile and asphalt will actually be ripped up and reduced in a redesign of the approach road.

Stark said a significant amount of landscaping, including several established trees, will be used around and on top of the earthen structure to help soften its appearance.

“We’re cautiously optimistic,” said Howie Mallory, a member of Free the Bells, a citizens’ group that pushed for the changes. “We think it’s a huge improvement over what was left there after the first phase.”

People arriving on buses will be able to enjoy the splendor of the Bells rather than being greeted with a view of a toilet, Mallory said.

When the approach road is realigned, it will create room between the road and the toilet for a berm that will be extensively landscaped, said Stark.

The Forest Service agreed last fall with extensive public sentiment that the building had to be altered. Hundreds of people wrote to the Forest Service criticizing the project and demanding changes.

District Ranger Jim Upchurch said he couldn’t demolish the structure because it was built with taxpayer funds, but he could support an overhaul. Upchurch inherited the project from his predecessor, Rob Iwamoto.

Free the Bells and numerous individuals also lobbied to prevent the Forest Service from following through on plans to build a 5,000-square-foot visitors’ center adjacent to the 2,600-square-foot uber-toilet.

Upchurch decided the agency could get by with what it is calling a 500-square-foot “visitor contact” building. No commercial sales of T-shirts or trinkets will be allowed. Only a small number of maps and books will be available.

A small bus stop to accommodate about 40 people will also be constructed. Both structures will be built into the hillside to the north of the toilet.

Mallory said Free the Bells members believe those scaled-back structures will be “fine,” based on 3D models showing the finished buildings and landscaping.

The Forest Service has budgeted $966,375 to overhaul the toilet and build the new structures, Stark said. The project wasn’t affected by a sweeping directive to the Forest Service to stop spending on nonessential projects. The agency has already used the $321 million allocated nationwide for firefighting.

Work started yesterday and is scheduled to be finished by the end of October.

“We tried to accelerate the project so we could get it all done by this winter,” said Stark.

Buses will drop off passengers in the lower parking lot through the remainder of the summer. The construction area has been fenced off.

The agency followed a formal procedure to plan and approved the project, performing an Environmental Assessment and rendering a notice of decision.

Mallory credited the Forest Service for working with citizens and addressing their concerns. “It’s been a give-and-take process,” he said.

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