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Community center inching toward reality

Scott CondonAspen, CO Colorado
Beth Mobilian, left, and Deb Morrison are heading the community
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BASALT – A modern-day version of an old-fashioned barn raising is helping Basaltines achieve their dream of creating a community center.A group of residents trying to convert an old, unused building on the Basalt Elementary School campus into a community center received a huge boost in recent weeks from building industry experts pledging in-kind work.Everyone from demolition crews to architect Larry Yaw have offered to help with the project, said Beth Mobilian, president of the board of directors of Basalt Old Brick, a nonprofit organization heading the community center effort.One huge pledge came from John Jellinek, owner of a temporary worker service called Labor Source, Mobilian said. Jellinek offered to donate all the labor for necessary demolition before remodeling the school building.Rick Stevens, a former mayor of Basalt and an owner of Aspen Earthmoving, will contribute time as project manager for the demolition, Mobilian said.Other Basaltines from every other aspect of the building trades have stepped up to offer their services in getting the structure suitable for use.”It’s like an Amish barn raising,” Mobilian said.

The old brick building became sort of the ugly duckling on the elementary school campus when a new school opened there this year. The old brick was one of three buildings for grades K-4. Now there is one building, and the red brick is a leftover.Although the red brick building wasn’t needed, the school district delayed demolition to give a group of residents time to work on the community center concept. There was enough support to form a nonprofit, and now the ugly duckling building is on the verge of reappearing as a swan.The building, constructed in 1938, once served as the Basalt school for all grades. As the area grew, it became the high school, then it was integrated into the elementary schools.Mobilian said the school district’s help was vital to launch the community center idea. In addition to delaying demolition, the district is leasing the old brick for $1 per year. That eases financial pressures on the fledgling center.The old building consists of a large center room amid seven smaller classrooms. The big room will receive most of the attention in the remodel. It was converted, sometime during the building’s long history, from a gymnasium to a library. A false ceiling was installed, the brick walls were covered, and the hardwood floor disappeared under layers of alternative flooring.The nonprofit wants to return it to its old grandeur.”Somewhere in there is a stage, brick walls and a gym floor,” Mobilian said.

The nonprofit also needs to rebuild the roof of the building and bring it up to the standards of the existing fire code.In-kind service won’t be enough to get the job done, Mobilian said. The nonprofit also needs cash for materials and some of the labor. They have received $25,000 pledges each from Lenny “Boogie” Weinglass and David Wilhelm.”It would be lovely to find one deep pocket,” said Deb Morrison, another board member on the nonprofit. But small donations are also important. “Everybody can pitch in,” she said.Tenants have already been found for the old classroom spaces. The Aspen-Santa Fe Ballet, Access Roaring Fork, Camp Chip-A-Tooth and the Yellow Canary art program have pledged to take old classrooms. Three well-established youth organizations – YouthZone, The Buddy Program and Family Resource Center – also are committed.The tenants will be responsible for finishing their spaces. They will pay monthly rent to Basalt Old Brick once they move in.”The need is there. We just need to create the space,” Morrison said.The center room will be a catch-all for the community. Mobilian and Morrison envision it as a space to accommodate everything from yoga and gymnastics classes to special screenings of movies and dances for teens.

“My personal dream is to have a climbing wall in there,” Mobilian said.The vision is to have a facility that is similar to the Red Brick building in Aspen. The difference, Mobilian said, is the city of Aspen bought the building from the school district and spent the funds necessary to convert the facility. Basalt has mounted more of a community effort – just as it did to build a municipal swimming pool in the mid-1990s and the high school athletic fields in recent years.Morrison envisions the old brick evolving into a “vortex” of activity in Basalt. She stressed that it must be a community center, not just a youth center, to be successful: “We want to keep the building active all day long,” she said.Demolition is scheduled to start later this month. Tenants could be in by late fall.More information is available at http://www.basaltoldbrick.org.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com.


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