CMC’s Aspen expansion plans irk neighbors, officials try to address concerns

Neighbors of Colorado Mountain College’s Aspen campus expressed skepticism and concern Monday about the school’s expansion plans that include student housing.

“You’re doubling what we have,” said Jared Thompson, a resident of the North Forty housing development and longtime Aspen Public Schools teacher. “We do not want (college students) hanging out in our park.”

Kirk Hinderberger, another neighborhood resident, said CMC’s proposal to build housing for as many as 175 students and double the square footage available for educational programs is too much.

“The scale seems extreme and out of whack,” he said.

The comments were made Monday at an open house at CMC’s Aspen campus next to the Aspen Business Center and across from the airport to discuss the expansion plans with the neighborhood and solicit feedback.

For their part, a large team of CMC administrators, teachers and communications staff tried to convince the residents that the expansion will be good for the community and won’t be “Animal House” at the North Forty.

First, the campus isn’t likely to attract a typical 18-year-old college student who wants to go off to school for nine months and go back home with mom and dad for the summer, said Matt Gianneschi, CMC’s chief operating officer. Instead, the housing is meant to attract students who go to school full time and work in the community, possibly as interns, with an eye toward joining the area workforce, he said. Those areas would include training for health care or emergency medical services careers and digital media jobs for those who attend the Isaacson School for Communication. The school also wants to start a hospitality/tourism/culinary arts program in Aspen, Gianneschi said.

In other words, the students living at the Aspen campus would not be traditional college students, he said.

“That is not us,” Gianneschi said, adding that CMC campuses in Glenwood Springs, Leadville and Steamboat Springs are geared toward traditional students.

Charles Cunniffe, an Aspen architect and member of CMC’s board of trustees, said the proposed Aspen programs and housing are meant to attract people who want to live and work here, provide them a chance to obtain the skills and network necessary to do so and send them off into the Roaring Fork Valley community.

“We hope it attracts the type of person our community wants and needs,” Cunniffe said.

The Aspen campus would be more like CMC’s Breckenridge campus, which has had on-campus housing for about two years, Gianneschi said. There, housing is only available to students who have completed at least 30 hours of classes and sign a 12-month lease, he said.

Still, he was hesitant to commit to hosting only that type of student in Aspen, which led to some frustration among residents.

Hinderberger said he’d like to see CMC officials commit to that course of action, which could lead to more support from neighbors. However, he also summarized several other areas of concern for neighbors, including children’s safety, partying college students, safe traffic flow and noise and light pollution.

Others expressed concern about where college students might go to socialize, recreate or simply just to smoke a cigarette.

CMC’s Aspen expansion is estimated to cost between $40 million and $50 million, said Kristin Heath Colon, CMC vice president CMC Foundation CEO. Of that, CMC would contribute $20 million and raise the rest, she said.

The project, which is in the very early stages, will be the subject of another open house in July.