Finding new life for an old Snowmass building in employee housing proposal |

Finding new life for an old Snowmass building in employee housing proposal

Snowmass Water and Sanitation District plans workforce housing at decommissioned facility

A decommissioned Snowmass Water and Sanitation District building could become workforce housing for district employees.
Kaya Williams/The Aspen Times

A proposed workforce housing project at the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District could turn a decommissioned facility into several apartments for district employee use.

In the eyes of project architect Scot Broughton, the idea isn’t far off from the “Ships to Reefs” program that turns old ships into hubs of underwater marine life.

“I always think of this thing as like a Naval decommissioning of a ship,” Broughton said during a joint interview with District Manager Kit Hamby at the district offices Friday. “They do that and they sink it for housing for marine wildlife and reefs and stuff like that. Different scale here, but this is basically where we’re going to decommission for housing. It’s just sort of a different occupancy group.”

Think water and sanitation workers, not fish. Working with an existing facility like this is a “one-of-a-kind project,” he said.

The building has had many lives over the years as a filter building, wastewater treatment facility and office space, Hamby told Snowmass Village Town Council at a presentation last week.

The structure’s next act will likely be housing, if all goes according to plan.

“We’re still very early in the planning process,” Hamby noted in a Friday interview; the district’s board of directors will likely take a closer look at green-lighting the project and allocating funding in the late fall and early winter months, he said.

Broughton’s conceptual plans include two two-bedroom units and three one-bedroom units that would be used as full-time workforce housing; two studio units would be used as bunk rooms for employees working late or extra-early hours for emergency response.

Those units would make a big difference for the staff at the district and the district’s ability to promptly respond to any system malfunctions, Hamby said Friday in an interview at the district offices.

Of the 22 or so employees who currently work in the district, only four live in Snowmass Village and only three of those four have the expertise for emergency response, according to Hamby.

The district has two units available at an existing water treatment facility, and the town of Snowmass Village offers support if there’s a need to house one or two workers trained in emergency response by bumping them up on the priority list, Hamby said. But it’s hard to beat onsite housing; the units would be less than a one-minute walk from the new wastewater treatment plant, ensuring extra-prompt response if an alarm goes off.

As for what the units will look like, plans are in the conceptual stages and aren’t at the construction level. But some designs presented to the Snowmass Village Town Council last week depicted units with individual exterior entries and outdoor spaces in the form of balconies and garden patios.

According to Hamby, the building will look a bit different but not significantly so. Since the structure already exists, most of the groundbreaking work will take place just outside its walls and windows to create those sunken patios overlooking Brush Creek.

The exterior work is perhaps the most challenging part of the project, in part because of the excavation involved, according to Hamby and Broughton. But it’s also a key component to the transformation from a wastewater treatment facility into a desirable place to live, they said.

“It’s basically a concrete bomb shelter and you know, its previous use didn’t necessarily require any kind of natural light or anything in there,” Broughton said.

Opening up the space to the outdoors will bring in natural light and help “make it a more humane environment inside,” according to Broughton.

“To do that on the backside, on the garden courts, is going to be just a great amenity to the stream and is going to make really nice units,” he said.

The building would be decommissioned anyway, Hamby said; that process is underway with the removal of some equipment from the facility. The district opened a new wastewater treatment facility just across the parking lot opened last fall, creating an opportunity to repurpose the old structure in a new way.

“It seemed a shame to me to raze the building and then have to rebuild something there,” Hamby said.

Converting it into workforce housing not only addresses the need for such a structure but also helps cut down on the waste that might be produced if the building were torn down or totally re-imagined.

“It’s such a big facility, if you thought about scraping it you would just overburden county facilities and landfills and stuff like that, so it definitely made the most sense to do an adaptive reuse of the building,” Broughton said.

It may not be the simplest solution, Hamby said, but it’s one that makes sense for the district.

“It’s easy to build something from scratch, to scrape the sides and put new employee housing there,” Hamby said. “But to retrofit a building that has all these different rooms and shapes we have to work with is probably a real challenge for Scot trying to make sense of the space and he has done an extraordinary job here.”

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