Pitkin County mulls future of historic Emma buildings
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
EMMA – The historic Emma store buildings will get a new roof this spring, but what, if anything, occurs between the crumbling brick walls is anybody’s guess.
The sagging buildings, located within spitting distance of Highway 82 just west of Basalt, belong to Pitkin County, which purchased them largely to ensure they’d be saved from collapse.
Since then, the walls have been stabilized on the side-by-side structures, which appear from the exterior as though they’re one building. The shattered windows have been boarded up and roof work this year will enclose the structures. Contractor RA Nelson submitted the low bid of $265,493 to re-roof the buildings and reconstruct the top of the exterior brick walls along the roof line.
Once the buildings are sealed from the elements, the focus will turn to their potential use.
“There’s really no sense of urgency once we get the roof on and the buildings protected,” said County Commissioner George Newman, whose district includes the historic Emma townsite. “There’s plenty of time to have the discussion.”
Newman toured the buildings Thursday, along with Commissioner Michael Owsley and members of the county Open Space and Trails Board.
A handful of buildings at Emma are all that remain of a once-thriving commercial and social hub along the Rio Grande Railroad that served the midvalley’s ranching and agricultural community from the late 1800s until the 1940s.
In 2008, Pitkin County purchased the 12.5-acre parcel between the highway and the Roaring Fork River that contains the old store buildings, a small structure to the rear called the powder house, and a brick, Victorian house. The buildings date back to 1898. Across the highway, the old Emma schoolhouse is also still standing; that property is not owned by the county.
The county open space program put up the $2.6 million for the purchase, including $250,000 from the town of Basalt, then spent another $121,000 shoring up the walls and covering broken and missing windows with plywood. A State Historic Fund grant will help pay for the roof project.
County officials toured the buildings with an eye toward their potential use as administrative offices for the Open Space and Trails program. Or, the county could sell about an acre of land containing the buildings to someone else, replenishing the open space fund.
In all, the store buildings encompass about 12,000 square feet – 4,000 square feet on one side and 4,000 square feet on each of two floors in the taller building. The open space program could use about 1,500 square feet of office space, said Dale Will, executive director of the program.
If the buildings were renovated, there would be room for other uses, he said.
Open Space Board members pondered whether they should come up with a formal proposal for the buildings, and then seek input from the public, or first assess what uses the community would find acceptable before spending money on planning.
“The 800-pound gorilla in the room is, is it going to be open space administrative use or not?” said Hawk Greenway, board chairman.
That issue will be a topic of discussion when the board holds a retreat in May. In the meantime, Will suggested a “fatal flaws analysis” to determine whether a hurdle like parking or the presently tricky access in and out of the property from Highway 82 would prove insurmountable in pursuing some use for the buildings.
While Open Space Board members, gazing at the sky in a roofless section of one building, expressed visions of what the old store buildings could become, Newman questioned the viability of bringing the structures up to code.
“I think trying to convert them into something like office space – the cost could be astronomical,” he said.
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