County departments starved for space | AspenTimes.com

County departments starved for space

Chad Abraham

Space. Pitkin County’s final frontier.OK, perhaps space is not the county’s last challenge, but finding enough room for all the county’s needs could be its most complex. That much was evident after a meeting of the Pitkin County commissioners on Tuesday in the old Aspen Youth Center space.That the meeting took place there, because the commissioners’ regular meeting room has been turned into an early voting site, underscored the county’s current space problems.The heads of virtually every county department attended the meeting, held to discuss the early stages of the local government’s 20-year master plan. Nearly all of the officials said they need more space.Representatives from RNL, a Denver consulting firm hired to recommend how to implement the sweeping master plan, told the commissioners about the findings from their audit of the county.Along with space concerns, the audit found “a variety of issues related to maintenance, building systems, code compliance, space configuration, space-use efficiencies and space shortages,” according to RNL’s report.Most county buildings are in decent shape considering their ages – the courthouse is 115 years old – but “operations are beginning to suffer because of compromises that have been made,” the report says. “Corridors and aisles are being used as storage and filing space, causing safety and code compliance concerns.”The audit found safety lapses at the public works facility near the Aspen Business Center. Hazardous herbicides and pesticides are kept in a covered storage garage “and do not have a designated storage area as they should to [ensure] safety and security.”The public works department also needs sand storage sheds for de-icing operations and other “big buildings for big equipment,” said Public Works Director Brian Pettet.The jail, which has seen 32 percent more bookings in five years, needs two more holding cells, an interview room, an isolation room for psychiatric use, and parking for a transport van and a food delivery van, among other considerations, the audit found.Jail administrator Don Bird described hybrid systems of temporary detention when the two existing holding cells are filled.The report says there are significant issues with the buildings’ heating and air-conditioning systems. These problems are caused by outdated building systems, higher occupant densities in buildings, increased technology use and other factors, according to the report.The next step will be brainstorming solutions to current space problems and the lack of expansion room in the future; residents can offer their input at the Inn at Aspen from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Nov. 8 and at the community center in El Jebel from 6 to 8 p.m. Nov. 9.After the solutions phase, RNL in January will give its report and recommendations to the commissioners, who will then “have some tough decisions,” said Jodi Smith, county project manager. They will take three to six months to consider the report, the recommendations from RNL and the public, and the current financial climate before making their decisions on the master plan in 2006.RNL’s first phase of the study began in June. Along with staffing reviews, a community survey, results from site inspections and an analysis of so-called “best uses” for departments, the consultants also presented projections of both population growth and growth in the county staff.According to the state demographer, Pitkin County’s population was 16,870. Some 25,000 people will be living here in 2025, the consultants said, citing state projections of 2.5 percent annual population growth.The county could have 110 more people on staff in 20 years to keep up with the subsequent infrastructure demands that 8,000 or so new people will place on the government.Two of the commissioners present said they didn’t agree with the state demographer’s predictions – “There’s no way we’re going to have 25,000 people in the county,” said Jack Hatfield – but all four of the commissioners agreed that immediate remedies are needed for current space problems.In looking at population growth and its effects on the master plan and staff levels, Commissioner Mick Ireland said it was important to consider individual types of growth.Perhaps one of the fastest-growing sectors of Pitkin County’s business community is the nonprofit arena, he said. Making money in a tax-free way is a great “spurrer Tim Dudley 10/25/05 cq to the sector,” Ireland said, and Aspen is fertile ground for nonprofits and their “six-figure directors.”It is crucial to look at the master plan as it concerns government growth, Ireland said. He asked that nonprofit growth numbers be separated in RNL’s study.As for population growth projections, he noted that the Aspen school system is not seeing increasing enrollments except at the high school level and that the average age of a home buyer in Pitkin County is 60.”People are not having babies,” Ireland said. “We’re aging. Barring a breakthrough in stem-cell research, people over 60 are not having kids.”Because of those factors, he said he expects a slow growth rate.Commissioner Dorothea Farris, countering Hatfield’s statement, said she could remember when people said 100,000 would never live in the valley. But “we’re there,” she said.The current space needs are “so obvious,” Farris said, noting that the RNL audit found that not a single county site has adequate parking.Along with next month’s public meetings, RNL representatives will meet with advisory and steering committees, county managers, commissioners and county staff.Chad Abraham’s e-mail address is chad@aspentimes.com

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