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Hospital building project may be coming back to life

Janet Urquhart

With approvals for a medical office building at Aspen Valley Hospital about to expire, hospital officials are blowing the dust off the shelved development plan and seeking more time to get it built.

Bill Brunworth, project manager for AVH, said the hospital plans to ask for an extension of its approvals from Pitkin County for possibly as much as another three years. The existing approvals, granted in August 1997, expire Aug. 27.

AVH may go so far as to obtain a building permit for the project, he added, in light of renewed hope that the project may finally get off the ground.

“I was beginning to think it was dead . but now it looks like it may be coming back to life,” Brunworth said.

A local development firm has approached the hospital and is interested in taking on construction of the office building. The project has languished on a back burner for three years because AVH couldn’t find a way to make the project work financially, said Brunworth.

The affordable housing required by the county commissioners when they approved the project made it impossible to build, Brunworth said.

“The reason we haven’t built it is we haven’t found a way to make it pencil out,” he said. “We priced it at $12 million and $4 million of it was housing. That’s one-quarter of the cost.

“That’s the main reason it hasn’t been built,” Brunworth said.

Now, with a potentially willing development partner and some new plans to build housing for hospital employees, the project may be doable, he said. Hospital officials have decided it would at least be prudent to keep the approvals for the project from lapsing.

“It may be we decide it doesn’t make sense to build the building,” Brunworth said. “But we feel like, at this point, we don’t want to have the approval end yet.”

AVH has also asked for a joint meeting with the Housing Board and county commissioners to discuss plans for a joint housing project with the Music Associates of Aspen, Brunworth said.

The MAA, in need of faculty housing, approached AVH, he said. The entities have identified a property for a joint housing project. Brunworth declined to identify the site or the owner at this stage.

AVH and the MAA are looking at sharing some housing – the MAA would use it for three months during the Aspen Music Festival and School, and AVH would use it for nine months, Brunworth said. Some year-round units for both owners is also envisioned.

The hospital may ask to apply some of that housing, if it is built, to fulfill the housing requirements associated with the office building, Brunworth added.

The office building project that earned county approval in 1997 included 18,625 square feet of office space on the main floor, underground parking, a 1,200-square-foot detox center and 12 rental units of affordable housing on the second floor.

It also called for 10 units of senior housing attached to the assisted living facility on the hospital campus and seven employee townhomes. A controversial pharmacy that was contemplated as part of the office building was pulled from the plans shortly before commissioners approved the proposal.

In all, the project would add 65,678 square feet to the hospital’s 19-acre campus.

Building some housing off-site, but nearby, would solve some of the hospital’s housing needs without using up space that could allow future hospital expansion, if it is needed, said Brunworth.

“We kind of feel it would be short-sighted to fill that up with housing,” he said.

Even if the hospital does not go forward with the office building, it will pursue additional housing for its employees, Brunworth said.

“We’ve got some other irons in the fire, too,” he said. “We need every stick of employee housing we can possibly get.”


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