Rising project costs still a thorn for Aspen School District bond efforts | AspenTimes.com

Rising project costs still a thorn for Aspen School District bond efforts

Housing, deferred maintenance suggested as “high priority” work

A sign in front of a staircase at Aspen High School indicates that it is "temporarily closed for safety purposes" on Sunday, May 8, 2022. Safety and security improvements and maintenance are a high priority for the district as it allocates bond funding.
Kaya Williams/The Aspen Times

As planners adjust projects because of rising inflation, Aspen School District is plugging along on deferred campus maintenance and staff housing acquisitions funded by a $114 million bond.

But some of the projects that were mentioned in the 2020 bond campaign — like a new Cottage preschool, revamped District Theater and upgraded bus barn — have hit some snags, caught on the pesky thorn of rising project costs, according to a May 4 bond update that SitelogIQ’s Damion Spahr presented to the Aspen Board of Education. (Spahr is part of the owner representative team for the bond initiative.)

The suggested “high priority” projects include staff housing, deferred maintenance and safety and security upgrades on campus, as well as some updates to furnishings and learning environments, according to Spahr’s presentation.

Those projects will move ahead this summer, with a full slate of maintenance work scheduled on campus and ongoing housing acquisition efforts. Of the $17.6 million in bond funding the district had spent by April this year, nearly $13 million was for housing acquisitions, according to the presentation. The second-highest spending category, deferred maintenance, totaled $2.9 million as of last month; extensive work in that category is on the docket this summer.

Suggested “next priority” work includes “reorganization of space” for the Cottage preschool, net-zero initiatives, performing arts and athletics upgrades and bus barn upgrades, according to Spahr’s presentation.

Superintendent David Baugh acknowledged that the district was “very fortunate” to raise what it did on the bond, but the cost of all the desired projects far exceeds the amount of money the district has to work with, he said at the meeting.

Inflation already sucked the air out of the $20 million bond windfall that was supposed to be a discretionary cushion for the district; with project costs still on the rise, the district is continuing to tighten its belt.

“Unfortunately, we’re taking a beating on inflation,” Baugh said. “What that means for all of the projects is nobody is getting as much as they want, for any of it.”

The Cottage was originally slated for a building overhaul that would also establish new district administrative offices, but high costs prompted the district to table that idea and look at a modular classroom concept for now.

“We’re continuing to work on a Cottage solution,” Baugh said.

The District Theater also won’t be getting quite as much work as “theater aficionados” might hope for, Baugh said. A 2005 bond campaign also floated ideas for a District Theater revamp, but that never took shape.

“This is the second bond offering where we promised to do something for the theater, but we’re not doing nearly as much as the theater would like us to do,” Baugh said.

The work at the theater will focus on safety, sound and lighting improvements, according to Baugh.

“We’re doing some basic stuff, but it’s certainly not our intention to do the heavy lift for the theater that many members of the community have dreamed of, and (that), you know, we’d love to see happen,” Baugh said. “It’s just not going to happen at this point.”

He said that some “concerned community members” are working on a “parallel” focused on the theater, but that work would not be within the scope of the current bond and may not manifest until 2025 or 2026.

Summer Work Impacts at Aspen School District

Summer maintenance will impact operations across the main Aspen School District campus.

Aspen Elementary School will be completely closed for the summer.

Aspen Middle School will accommodate select programs and house the elementary and middle school administration staff. Utilities will be shut down at times — that will be coordinated with staff — and partial building closures will occur through the year.

Aspen High School will house the high school and district administration staff. The weight room will be open with controlled access requirements. As is the case at the middle school, utilities will be shut down at times (coordinated with staff) and parts of the building will close throughout the year.

Across the district campus, expect extensive closures of roads, pathways and sidewalks and limited parking and deliveries.