Construction to move Pitkin County government workers downvalley

Jason Auslander
The Aspen Times

It’s budget season again for Pitkin County, and the big news this year is a new, $24 million county government building and the impacts construction will have on residents and employees.

In fact, once construction begins — probably next spring — many county government employees will find themselves working downvalley in Basalt because renting temporary space in Aspen is too expensive, Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock said.

“Rent is so much cheaper” in Basalt, Peacock said.

Thanks to the new $24.1 million county building, Pitkin County’s capital expenditures will be 338 percent higher next year than this year, he said. However, the total $104 million budget is only 1.7 percent higher than this year’s budget, Peacock said.

That’s because other projects, including a big investment in roads over the past few years, have ended and money can be focused on the new building, he said. Budget planners are not anticipating raising any new taxes to fund the construction and will need some sort of financing to pull off the project, Peacock said.

But the time for new county government facilities has come, he said.

“We’ve been wrestling with these issues since 1988,” Peacock said. “This (current) infrastructure is causing us to not do a good job of providing services to our community.”

Problems include too little space for community-development planners in City Hall, a lack of space for elections workers in the current county building on Main Street and a county-commissioner meeting room with seats for only 12 people, Peacock said. Also, the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office has outgrown the office space it uses in the courthouse building, he said.

“The Pfister (murder) case brought that into the forefront,” Peacock said. “At one point, we had an assessor employee in the bathroom with the accused.”

Other law enforcement-related concerns include a lack of space to interview victims and store evidence, he said.

Finally, moving county departments out of the courthouse and into the new building will allow the state and county courts to have more space in the courthouse to operate and allow the courthouse to become more secure, Peacock said.

“In 99 percent of communities (in the U.S.), it would be a secure building,” he said.

The new building is still in the planning stages, and Poss Architecture in Aspen has just been hired to come up with the first stage of plans for it, he said. However, don’t expect the current, 17,000-square-foot building at 530 E. Main St. to change much on the outside.

That’s because it’s classified as a historic structure and cannot be torn down. Instead, current plans call for it to be stripped to its bones and completely rebuilt on the inside, Peacock said.

Plans also call for a 23,000-square-foot addition to be constructed behind the current county building, with a single-level, 8,000-square-foot, 12-space parking garage underneath it, he said. The addition will house a new county-commissioner meeting room, the Sheriff’s Office, the county manager’s office, the county attorney, the county assessor, the open space and trails department and community relations, Peacock said.

With the parking garage, the building will feature a total of 48,000 square feet of office space.

Peacock said he’s hoping to break ground on the new facility around the beginning of the second quarter of 2016, though that might not occur until the end of the second quarter. Construction should take about 16 months and likely will be completed by the end of 2017, he said.

Departments that require frequent contact with the public will remain in Aspen. Those include the clerk and recorder, treasurer, Sheriff’s Office and community development, Peacock said. Of those, only the clerk and recorder will have to move to temporary offices in town, because the rest are currently housed in the Pitkin County Courthouse or Aspen City Hall.

Leases for office space in the Vectra Bank building and the Ute City Building downtown for the clerk and recorder and elections bureau were recently approved, he said.

Also, the Board of County Commissioners will continue to meet in Aspen, though meetings will be held in the newly renovated library, he said.

Other departments that don’t require frequent contact with the general public, including the county manager’s office, county attorney and finance department, will be located in Basalt during the construction period, Peacock said.

Detailed budget presentations for county commissioners begin today and will continue through December. The final budget is slated to be adopted Dec. 15.