Final touches being applied to Aspen’s new City Hall

All electric, geothermal building will be ready for use by October

The finishing touches are happening on the new Aspen City Hall in anticipation of an October move-in date for municipal government employees and elected officials.

A recent tour of the 37,500-square-foot office building located on Rio Grande Place unveils what the public can expect when they enter the space, which includes a grand staircase from the first level to the third, where council chambers is located and looks out to Galena Plaza.

“I think it does a spectacular job of bringing in light,” City Manager Sara Ott said. “It’s really the signature piece of the building.”

Designed by architect Charles Cunniffe, the city broke ground on the project two years ago after demolishing the building that housed the Aspen Chamber Resort Association.

While the building’s main entrance is on Rio Grande Place to access the most frequently used departments, including building and engineering and community development, Ott said she expects that a lot of community members will enter City Hall from Galena Plaza.

That entrance is located off an extended plaza that offers sweeping views of Rio Grande Park, Red and Smuggler mountains and the Hunter Creek Valley.

The plaza extension is the roof of the building’s second floor and will serve as an outdoor public space.

“This is going to be reservable space, but in the beginning it won’t be, so for the first six months I don’t think we’re going to make this heavily programmed,” Ott said. “It’s kind of like the same philosophy of some of our other downtown parks that they are for general recreation, not specialized use.

“It will be a policy conversation, and I think the community needs some time in the space to decide what they want from it.”

It also will be a policy discussion among council members about how and when to proceed in getting another restaurant into the adjacent Rio Grande office building, where Taster’s Pizza was located for years.

The building has been “white boxed,” meaning that it has been built out with the necessary infrastructure but remains a shell so a future restaurateur can make specific improvements.

Ott said she will ask Aspen City Council during an Aug. 9 work session what time frame a restaurant should be selected, which will go through a formal request for proposals process.

But it likely won’t be anytime soon.

“What we’re focused on is getting staff moved and getting out of these leases that we have for different space around town, and council has agreed that that is the first priority,” Ott said. “The second priority is to get these community spaces activated and ready to go.”

The second and third floors of the Rio Grande building will house the human resources and parking departments.

The renovations and additional offices are designed to provide adequate space for city employees to work and centralized locations for the public.

Currently, the roughly 320 municipal employees are working in cramped office space in City Hall in the armory building on Galena Street, or are spread throughout town in rented buildings that cost the local government roughly $500,000 a year.

Council directed staff to design the building at 75% of national standards for office space per employee and to build with the long-term future and growth in mind.

“There’s standards for circulation space and then square footage for each employee based upon whether they have a private office, desk space, etc.,” said Capital Asset Director Rob Schober. “We took those standards and scaled them down and then took our programming and fit that into the building.”

Ott said the new City Hall also addresses the lack of proper meeting space for the city.

“So in addressing the work conditions, we have interspersed throughout all of the floors conference and huddle space,” she said.

There’s a lot of flex space incorporated into the floor plans for each department, which is designed so that no one employee is at his or her work station all day and instead is out engaging with the community.

And with the pandemic changing work habits and the city’s current policy of allowing employees to work as many as two days remotely, that flex space fits with the times, Ott noted.

In addition to the building and engineering, environmental health and community development departments on the first floor, there also is a parents’ room to address needs of children of city employees who may need privacy, as well as staff locker rooms for recreational equipment and showers.

“With the volume of staff here, we want them to use the recreational amenities at lunch, ride to and from the office and that might mean we want them to shower to make your experience with them more pleasant,” Ott said.

Offices on the second floor comprise the council and mayor’s office, as well as the city manager on the east side, and the finance and communications departments on the west side of the building, facing Rio Grande Park, the latter of which is considered the primo spot.

“We talked about which departments never get to leave their offices so we thought let’s give them something to be happy about,” Ott quipped.

There’s a break room and kitchen area for employees on the second floor, which has access to an outdoor staircase that connects Rio Grande Park to Galena Plaza and downtown Aspen.

A secondary meeting room for council specifically for council executive sessions is located on the south side of the building’s second floor so that when those private gatherings occur among elected officials the public can remain in chambers.

“I really hate for executive sessions that they were kicking people out of the room,” Ott said, “so once (council) told me they wanted this to be City Hall I said, ‘You need a separate City Council conference room.'”

There also is a dedicated meeting room for other citizen boards and commissions that faces Rio Grande Park on the second floor.

A third meeting room for training and community use is located on the building’s third floor, next to a reception and overflow area where the public can view council chambers on a mounted screen.

“One of the goals when we reprogrammed was I really wanted a reception space so that when we are hosting sister cities, dignitaries, the monks, things like that, they had a proper space that was appropriate to do those kinds of things for the community,” Ott said.

Council chambers is about the same size as the current one in the basement of City Hall but has better technology for Grassroots TV to broadcast and acoustics.

Ott gave credit to Schober for improving the conditions of that room by suggesting windows on the south wall facing Galena Plaza rather than having none, which was in the original design.

“That’s an example of one of the nice things we’ve added from the contingency (budget) to make it a better space,” she said.

Financed by certificates of participation, the new City Hall and renovated Rio Grande building are estimated to cost $34.5 million, with a $48.6 million payback.

City officials last year decided to postpone the roughly $12 million renovation of the armory as COVID financial concerns came to bear.

The Aspen Chamber Resort Association, which has been a tenant of the city for years, is temporary located at the old powerhouse along the Roaring Fork River and will eventually move into the armory building.

It’s undecided what other community uses will be brought into the armory once city employees moved.