Pitkin County Courthouse renovations heading for ‘mid-stream stop’ | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County Courthouse renovations heading for ‘mid-stream stop’

Pitkin County has stopped infrastructure construction due to COVID-19 guidelines, including the courthouse in Aspen on Friday, April 10, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Coronavirus-related financial and social distancing needs are forcing Pitkin County to stop infrastructure-related construction projects until at least April 30 if not later, officials said this past week.

Public infrastructure construction projects were exempted from the current stay-at-home public health order, which expires at the end of the month but could be extended.

Projects that will stop until the expiration of the latest stay-at-home public health order include renovations to the Pitkin County Courthouse, a modest expansion of the Pitkin County Landfill, improvements at Aspen’s airport and the finishing touches to Basalt’s whitewater park, Rich Englehart, assistant county manager, said earlier this week.

Already scheduled infrastructure construction or maintenance deemed essential because of critical use or safety issues that will go forward despite the public health order include replacement of a bridge on upper Castle Creek Road, the completion of the Castle Creek Trail, a jail safety audit and upgrade, telecommunications and broadband projects, the replacement of the stoplight at Highway 82 and the Aspen Business Center and county-wide road maintenance, Englehart and county Public Works Director Brian Pettet told commissioners Tuesday.

“I’m OK with all of these,” said Commissioner George Newman. “It’s essential we keep going (with them).”

Construction crews will move forward with the nearly $5 million renovations to the 140-year-old courthouse once the public health order is lifted, but only to a point, Englehart said. They will wrap up phase one construction, then officials will indefinitely postpone phase two until a later, post-virus date.

Englehart called it a “mid-stream stop,” while the county’s facilities manager said it comes at a good time because crews were about to finish phase one.

“A month later or before and it would have been much more difficult,” Jodi Smith said.

Crews will likely need another two months to put the finishing touches on the newly renovated offices for the District Attorney’s Office staff, state Probation Department officers and the new location for the Court Clerk’s Office on the first floor. The basement level, which includes offices for Alpine Legal and a new third courtroom, also will be mostly competed except for carpeting, Englehart said.

Other tweaks to the building that were set for the second construction phase, including sewer lines, heating and elevator upgrades, will go forward to ensure occupants’ safety, he said.

After that, however, the courthouse’s second floor will be left alone until further notice.

That means renovations to the District and County courtrooms, judges’ chambers and the installation of an exterior set of evacuation stairs from the second floor will be postponed, Englehart said. Installation of a security station at the front entrance off Main Street to screen visitors will be put off as well, he said.

• The public health order that shut down construction sites also came at an opportune time for construction crews working on the Basalt whitewater park, located about a quarter-mile upstream of the Roaring Fork River’s confluence with the Fryingpan River, Englehart said Friday.

Crews were able to complete in-stream work this winter on two concrete water features in the park that created large holes during high water conditions that many found dangerous, he said. Work still needs to be done in the bypass channel and on land-based restoration projects, though those can wait until after April 30, Englehart said.

After that date, however, crews will need to finish the work before high water conditions, so construction will resume May 1 even if the public health order is extended, he said.

• And while the nearly $4 million, 0.6-mile-long Castle Creek Trail — which has been in the works for more than 12 years — might have to wait until public health orders are lifted, the county plans to continue work on the joint project with the city, Englehart said.

Construction on the trail, which will run from the intersection of Castle Creek Road and the Marolt Trail to two school campuses up the road, began late last summer and is 60 percent complete, Pettet said. It will eventually provide safe passage to scores of students from Aspen Music Festival and School and Aspen Country Day School, who have to contend with heavy traffic and dangerous conditions on the road as they walk or bike to school on Castle Creek Road.

• Replacement of the stoplight at Highway 82 and the ABC is set to begin April 20, Pettet said. Though the light is the responsibility of the Colorado Department of Transportation, a city dump truck driver who forgot to lower his bed took out the light earlier this winter, so the city will take the lead in replacing the light, he said. The light is on county property, though that is the extent of the county’s involvement.

• In addition to a flood mitigation project in the Redstone area, county crews also will perform crack-sealing on Owl Creek, Brush Creek and McLain Flats roads, as well as road, ditch and vegetation maintenance throughout the county, Englehart said.

• The expansion of the landfill to the north, as well as other projects at the facility, will be postponed, along with installation of a new baggage handling system at the airport and other terminal improvements, he said.