Aspen’s electeds want old power house to return to community use
After spending the better part of three hours on minutia of what could go into the city of Aspen’s new office building at Rio Grande Place, Aspen City Council members agreed Tuesday on a big picture decision to return the Old Power House to a community use.
As it stands now, the city-owned, historic building temporarily houses government offices and the Aspen Chamber Resort Association.
It’s being used that way as the city begins constructing and renovating buildings to expand office space for its 320-plus employees.
A previous council three years ago bailed on a controversial proposal to turn the power house into a brewery, incubator office space, a studio for a TV station and other community uses amidst litigation threats by neighbors.
Council members unanimously agreed Tuesday that the building, located on the banks of the Roaring Fork River off of North Mill Street, should be activated.
“That space is dead space,” said Councilwoman Rachel Richards. “I’d love to see us come back to public use.”
Council members also agreed that ACRA and its visitor center should move either into the city’s new 37,500-square-foot building between Rio Grande Place and Galena Plaza, or a renovated Armory building, which currently serves as City Hall.
What goes into those buildings, as well as a renovated Rio Grande building where Taster’s Pizza is located, is a bit more complicated for the five council members, three of whom are newly elected and were not part of a previous elected board’s vision.
Mayor Torre said it’s a difficult exercise to fit all of the jigsaw pieces because there are four buildings to program, and his end goal is to make the space as efficient as possible.
Up for further discussion is where the city’s main government seat is located — whether it’s appropriate for council chambers and the city manager’s office to be located at the new Rio Grande building or in the current City Hall on Galena Street.
As the city’s capital asset management department currently programs it, council chambers would remain in the current City Hall.
The city clerk’s office and finance department are proposed to be on the ground level, and the legal and human resources department, along with more clerk space, would be on the second floor.
The city manager’s office would take the entire third floor in the Armory, at just around 2,500 square feet.
The basement would remain council chambers.
At the new building at Rio Grande Place, the street level would house the visitor center for ACRA, as well as the engineering and Community Development departments.
The second level, which includes the renovated Rio Grande building, would house the environmental health, parking, housing, special events, transportation and information technology departments.
The third floor, facing Galena Plaza, would contain the capital asset department and ACRA’s administrative offices, along with 2,500 square feet of meeting space.
That amount of space is only 40 square feet more than what the city has had historically, said Jack Wheeler, president of Concept One Group and the city’s owner’s representative on the project.
He explained that the planned meeting space either replaces square footage that has been lost, or is being transformed in other configurations at different locations.
“They are not new meeting spaces,” he told council.
In between all of it would be smaller meeting rooms for staff and members of the public doing business with the city, as well as lobbies, restrooms, a kitchen, mechanical rooms and circulation areas for the building.
Wheeler and the capital asset team will return to council next month with more detail based on the feedback they received Tuesday evening.
Pre-construction is underway for the new Rio Grande building, which is guaranteed at a maximum price of $34.2 million, including almost $3 million in contingency funds, as well as previous design work and the demolition of the structure where the chamber of commerce was located.
An additional $13.9 million has been estimated for the renovation of the existing City Hall.
The total payback through certificates of participation financing for the entire city offices plan is capped at $60 million.
The renovations and additional office space are designed to provide adequate space for city employees to work and centralized locations for the public.
Currently, municipal employees are working in cramped office space in City Hall, or are spread throughout town in rented buildings that cost the local government more than $500,000 a year.
While some city staffers will be allotted as much as 120 square feet for their workspaces, others will have 50 square feet.
Wheeler said the average square footage allotted for an employee in the new building is around 370 square feet.
That is smaller than the industry average, Wheeler noted, but the calculations are based on operational needs of current city staff members who were consulted on how much space they need in the future, Wheeler said.
He estimated that anywhere between 136 and 165 employees will work in the new building at move in; 29 additional full-time workers are estimated by 2030, based on future growth predictions.
Almost 3,300 square feet is dedicated to accommodate that future growth.
“We have a lot to think about,” Torre said of how the pieces of the puzzle best fit.