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Music school campus eyes overhaul

Stewart OksenhornAspen, CO Colorado
Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times
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ASPEN When Tom Reagan first spied the Castle Creek campus shared by the Aspen Country Day School and the Aspen Music Festival and School, he was struck by just how rustic the space was.”A few of the structures looked like my great-great-great-grandmother’s old log cabin,” said Reagan, who is both an Aspen Country Day School parent and president of the school’s board of trustees. “I thought, what if the buildings were raised to the par of the academic programs? That would be fantastic.”Tuesday marked the first formal step toward a wholesale redevelopment of the 23-acre campus, at an estimated cost of $60 million. Working jointly, the Music Festival and the Country Day School submitted a proposed master plan for the project, featuring 10 new buildings and the renovation of two others, to Pitkin County. The two organizations then hosted a press conference in Music Hall, a chilly, vintage building that serves as a rehearsal space for Music Festival orchestras and the gymnasium for Country Day School students. With an atmosphere that could generously be called rustic, Music Hall could well be one of the structures to which Reagan was referring.Among the speakers, in addition to representatives from the Music Festival and the Country Day School, was architect Harry Teague, whose Aspen-based firm is designing the new campus. Teague’s firm was responsible for the Music Festival’s two main venues – Harris Hall, opened in 1995; and the Benedict Music Tent, redesigned in 2000 – as well as such community-oriented local projects as the Aspen and Carbondale community schools, Anderson Ranch Arts Center and Colorado Mountain College’s Aspen campus.

The campus, roughly a mile up Castle Creek from the roundabout, was the site of an 1870s mining camp. In 1965, industrialist Robert O. Anderson donated the land to the Aspen Music Festival; four years later, the Music Festival began leasing classroom space to the Country Day School. Teague called the proposed redevelopment of the campus “a major point in the history of Aspen.”

“It is one of those places that has its own identity,” said Teague, noting the natural features – ponds, hillsides, wetlands and Castle Creek – that mark the land. “One of our primary goals will be not to lose that. Those qualities are the indispensable qualities that really distinguish this.”Bob Rafelson, who lives within a half mile upcreek from the campus, wasn’t sure that the redevelopment would preserve the character of the area. Rafelson, and at least one other Castle Creek resident, had not heard of the proposal until Tuesday.”There’s an aspect of development that is covert, and that angers me. And it doubly angers me because they’re my neighbors,” said Rafelson, who has lived on his Castle Creek property since the early ’70s. “Everything is being redeveloped, and it drives me nuts. One of the reasons is because I see little improvement. Everything gets bigger, but I don’t see things getting better.”

The Aspen Music Festival and School, founded in 1949, educates some 750 students each summer, in addition to presenting performances by top classical musicians. The Aspen Country Day School has an enrollment of 196 students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.The two schools emphasize the natural beauty of the location as a significant factor in the education of their students. Toward that end, the project aims to minimize construction by building facilities that will be shared by the organizations. A new building that could host rehearsals for the Music Festival’s largest orchestra, for instance, would double as a gymnasium; a ballfield would be added adjacent to the building. Currently, the campus has neither a ballfield nor a hall big enough for the Music Festival’s largest orchestra. According to Alan Fletcher, president of the Music Festival, approximately 85 percent of the space would be put to overlapping uses.”Will the kids still stand under the trees and play their horns? I can say, yes,” said Fletcher. “We wanted it to feel like Aspen, and what could be a more beautiful goal than that?” Balancing the desire to maintain the unspoiled nature of the campus is the goal of improving the educational experience. Part of that improvement is expected to come from an upgrading and expansion of facilities, with 108 practice rooms in addition to the 10 new buildings. (Only two buildings are planned to be preserved, and both are expected to be renovated: the Music Festival’s administrative building, which dates to the 19th century mining days; and the Castle Creek Building, built in 1994 to house the Country Day School’s administrative offices.)

Among the planned upgrades is to move the cafeteria – presently in “a rather crummy basement,” according to Fletcher – to a new, ground-level location. According to Teague, some of the new rehearsal facilities may contain gallery spaces to accommodate a small number of listeners, though no performance venues are proposed.Other improvements to the campus would come through better design: roads that improve traffic flow, a pedestrian-friendly layout that will reduce conflicts between vehicles and students, and an arrangement that encourages human interaction.Among the major hurdles still facing the two organizations is raising the money for the project. Though they are targeting a starting date as early as the fall of 2008, with a construction schedule lasting from 3-5 years, the fundraising effort has not yet begun.”Stay tuned,” said Fletcher.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com


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