Aspen District Theatre needs some love and money, teachers say

Aspen Santa Fe Ballet performs the ballet "Beautiful Decay" at the Aspen District Theatre.
Sharen Bradford/Courtesy Photo

If the board of education decides to bring a bond question to Aspen School District voters in November, its creative arts and music program instructors have one plea: don’t forget the Aspen District Theater.

The theater — located in the elementary school building — is used for classes and campus-wide functions, while such organization as Aspen Community Theater and Aspen-Santa Fe Ballet also use it for their performances. Yet the facility is in serious need of repairs and upgrades, faculty members told the board at its meeting Monday.

“Problems still exist and we still don’t have the space that we need and we don’t have the classroom space that we need,” Marnie White, music teacher and choir director at Aspen Elementary School, told the board during a video conference.

Local voters authorized a $33 million bond issue in 2005, with proceeds paying for a new Aspen Middle School as well improvements at the elementary and high school buildings. Other upgrades discussed in the bond campaign included remodeling the theater, but that didn’t happen.

“The last time we did a major bond … a significant portion of that money was supposed to go to the District Theater and for one reason or another, that never happened,” White said. “It was supposed to fix all of the problems with the District Theater that still exist, and we still don’t have the space that we need.”

The board must let the county clerk know by July 24 — 100 days before the Nov. 3 election — if it plans to bring a bond question to the general election. The board has until the end of August to adopt ballot language.

The board is mulling whether to seek voter approval for roughly $30 million bonds that would fund the construction of more teacher housing, the relocation of the bus barn, and expansion of child-care, learning and athletic facilities. Board members also previously mentioned upgrading performing-arts facilities, but White and others reminded them that they were told that in 2005.

Both White and Jonathan Geller, who manages both the District Theater and Black Box Theatre, said turnover at high-level positions and a higher-priced new middle school than originally projected meant the facility didn’t get the upgrades it needed. The ASD also wasn’t expecting a $1 million project in 2008 to remove asbestos from the old middle school building before it could build the new one.

“As the middle school price went up,” Geller said, “the dollars that were available to the District Theater went down.”

Despite the coronavirus pandemic as a backdrop, board members have previously said that November is a good time to ask voters to approve the new bonds because the bonds voters approved in 2005 could be rolled into the new ones. If the question were posed in November 2012, however, voters could possibly be asked to approve a new tax, which can be a tougher sell, board members have said.

Selling the bond question to voters in November will take more than just pitches from the BOE and district administrators, said board member Dwayne Romero. It also will demand stumps from instructors and educators.

“If we’re going for a bond that has many purposes … we’re going to need you to spread the message, spread the gospel,” he said.

There might be some apprehension on staff’s part because the lack of follow-through after the 2005 election, “so there’s some wariness there we’ll have to be aware of,” White said.