In economic downturn, a silver lining for Aspen School District |

In economic downturn, a silver lining for Aspen School District

Katie Redding
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” Because of price declines in the housing market, the Aspen School District has been able to purchase housing much farther upvalley than originally planned, according to Superintendent Diana Sirko.

It is currently under contract for one unit in Aspen, two units at the Aspen Airport Business Center, and two duplexes in Basalt, according to board member Laura Kornasiewicz. Four of the units would accept pets, something teachers have asked for, she said.

The board is also looking at least one other unit in Aspen, as well as a land parcel, said Kornasiewicz.

“The fact of the matter is,” said board president Charla Belinski, speaking of the housing market downturn, “it’s going to work out really well for our district.”

The district is also moving forward with plans to spend half its $12 million from a recent bond sale expanding a teacher housing project in Woody Creek.

On Monday it examined a draft plan of the project, which adds four duplexes, as well as improvements to the existing housing project ” including an asphalt parking lot, carports and storage units.

If approved, the school board intends to present the draft plan to the Pitkin County Commissioners, several of whom have questioned the project because it lies outside the urban growth boundary.

The school board has adopted the position that it is not governed by the county land use process, and need only present a detailed plan ” and an explanation of how the expansion conforms to the current community plan ” to the county.

“I feel very comfortable that we do comply with everything except for the fact that it is outside the urban growth boundary,” said consultant Julie Ann Woods, of Aspen and Crested-Butte based Elk Planning Group, on Monday, as she presented a draft of the detailed plan to the school board.

Because the expansion does not conform to the current Aspen Area Community Plan, Woods detailed how the project conformed to the most recent development plan that did allow development in the area: the Interim Housing Plan. It is close to available public transit, compatible with the neighborhood, does not promote sprawl, is continuous to existing infrastructure, and will strive to be energy efficient, among other Interim Housing Plan goals, she wrote.

Woods also examined the Woody Creek Master Plan, noting that the project is not high-density and is willing to offer an easement for a potential trailhead nearby.

In order to conform to the original plan for the property, which allowed up to 18 units, Woods recently reduced the expansion to eight units, from an original 12. The reduction was also necessary given the proposed size of the expanded septic system, she said.

That square footage reduction could potentially drop the project’s $5.5 million price tag by up to $700,000, according to Fenton Construction. However, Chad Griller, senior project manager for Fenton Construction, noted that the project still awaits state approvals for its innovative water and septic systems ” and additional costs to those systems could eat up any savings.

Aspen School Board members were very supportive of the proposal on Monday, although board member Elizabeth Parker questioned the project’s use of modular housing. Citing the current economic downturn ” and the district’s need to think about “responsible use of public funds” ” she wondered about trying to employ more local workers.

School board members were not sure Monday when they might decide whether or not to accept this draft of the project, but the next scheduled meeting between the school board and the Pitkin County Commissioners is on June 2.

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