Commissioners override Aspen City Council, approve building
Pitkin County commissioners voted Monday to approve plans for a new $24.6 million county government building on Main Street.
The unanimous vote by the five commissioners also served as a denial of two main conditions for the building recommended by the Aspen City Council about a month ago. Those recommendations, which were not binding because of a state law governing development of public buildings, included reducing the mass and scale of the building and reducing the amount of glass in the building’s three-story entrance.
“This is a functional building,” Commissioner Rachel Richards said. “It’s solid. It’s attractive. It’s understated. It’s respectful of the (Pitkin County) Courthouse building.”
The county plans to scrape its current 17,000-square-foot Courthouse Plaza building at 530 E. Main St. to a shell and start over again. It also plans to add a 24,000-square-foot addition to the back of the building that will create an L-shape with Veterans Memorial Park serving almost like a courtyard between the new building and the historic courthouse. The new building also will house an 8,000-square-foot underground parking garage.
The county needs the added space because it is legally mandated to provide a range of services to the public within the county seat of Aspen that has been inadequate in recent years because of lack of space, said County Manager Jon Peacock. Once the building is completed, Community Development employees will move out of Aspen City Hall while the county assessor, treasurer and sheriff’s offices will move out of the county courthouse.
“We have to provide these essential services in a specific place and in a specific manner,” Peacock said.
That will leave the 9th Judicial District as the sole tenant of the courthouse, which will allow more space for court needs and more security for the building, he said.
When the county first began looking at its space needs in 2006, officials proposed building an extra 52,000 square feet, he said. However, once the Great Recession finally ebbed in 2014, officials re-examined those needs and scaled the new space back to 24,000 feet, he said.
Plans for the current project began in earnest about a year ago when the county began a community-outreach process, including drawing up four different architectural designs, to take the public’s temperature about what it liked. In the end, commissioners and the public both chose an option that bridges the styles of the Courthouse and the Courthouse Plaza, preserves Veteran’s Park and offers energy efficiency, Peacock said.
Those plans were submitted to Aspen city staff and the City Council, though the state law only allowed the council to suggest changes, which could be overturned by a four-fifths super majority vote by county commissioners. That was easily managed at Monday’s unanimous vote.
At a somewhat contentious City Council meeting about those plans in early May, Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron told county staff and two commissioners that city staff and the Historic Preservation Commission “like almost nothing about this.”
In addition to asking the county to reduce the height and scale of the addition and reduce the amount of glass at the three-story entrance, the City Council also wanted a closer architectural relationship between the new building and the county courthouse.
“It’s not clear what that actually means,” Peacock said Monday.
Now, with the building approved, county departments will begin moving out of the soon-to-be-renovated building at 530 E. Main St. around Aug. 1. The building is slated to be finished around the summer of 2018.
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