The return of construction season in Aspen
ASPEN – Throughout the Rocky Mountains, summer is a time of both extraordinary beauty and frustrating disruption. When the snow melts away, the ground thaws and the leaves appear, it’s also time to sink shovels into the ground, repair the roads and pour the concrete. It’s the season when orange cones proliferate on the highways and people in the building trades get especially busy.In Aspen, of course, construction has long been a mainstay of the local economy, employing thousands but also clogging Highway 82 with traffic and filling the air with the sounds of air compressors and power tools.For the last couple of years, the recession has put a severe damper on construction activity, but summer 2011 promises something of a return to normal. Some of these projects won’t really kick in until late summer or fall, and some should be complete in June. Aspenites aren’t likely to experience the months-long hubbub of, say, 2006 and 2007, but there are a number of large projects, many of them government-funded, that will affect locals between May and October.In this week’s cover story, The Aspen Times’ staff offers snapshots of some of the higher-visibility projects on tap. Remember to be a good neighbor and watch out for flaggers.
The crane that’s been looming above Aspen Valley Hospital all winter will remain in place this summer as construction kicks up a notch during the warm-weather months.According to AVH assistant director of facilities Stephen Selby, construction of the expanded hospital is on track as it heads into month six of a two-year-long project.”Things have been moving right along,” he said. “And I think this summer, as we move inside the building, it will continue to feel like we are indeed expanding our facilities.”AVH broke ground in December on Phase II of an expansion plan – which began with the completion of the Aspen Birth Center in 2008 – after voters approved the issuance of $50 million in general obligation bonds in the November 2010 election. The bonds will be repaid over 20 years by a property tax increase; the owner of a home valued at $500,000 will pay an extra $3 per month, for instance.Phase II includes, among other things, expansion of all outpatient areas, leasable space for physicians, increased parking and more. The first steps began this winter and primarily focused on infrastructure – drainage, preparing to put in the parking structure, etc. Patients noticed the work, but were not directly affected, AVH officials said.Residents of Whitcomb Terrace have been most affected by the construction, and will continue to be this summer as the loop road – which circles around the senior center – is put in place. But Selby said hospital administrators have been talking with Whitcomb Terrace officials and residents to create the best scenario as work continues.The road work will also disrupt traffic, as Castle Creek Road will at times need to be a one-way road. “It will be open at all times, and we will work hard to limit the impact on motorists as much as possible,” said Mike Cunningham, project manager for Haselden Construction. Cunningham also said the bike path along Castle Creek Road will be rerouted, but will remain uninterrupted.As work moves inside the hospital in the coming months, others will be affected, including hospital staffers. The expansion plan means shared offices as areas of the hospital are closed for renovations before new spaces become available. The hospital will also be without a gift shop, though the cafeteria will remain open.”It’s a bit of a shuffle, but it’s really the most efficient way to get the job done,” said Cunningham. “We were cramped already, which is why we needed to expand,” added Selby. “But it will be worse for a while; if you have a desk, expect someone to be sitting next to you through next summer. But then it will be so much better.”Construction work will also leave the 25-bed hospital short five rooms, so there is the potential for fewer private rooms. Selby said the hospital is seldom filled to capacity, however, so administrators are hopeful all private room requests can be met. They will also use rooms in the maternity wing to house non-contagious, female patients when appropriate.”Our No. 1 priority is patient care, and that will not change,” said Selby. “It is a major construction project, but I believe people will be pleased by what they see and the way it is being handled.”- Jeanne McGovern
A summer of runway construction at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport should cause few headaches, even to airline travelers.While work has begun beyond the south end of the existing runway, in clear view of Highway 82, commuters can watch the big machinery at work without actually encountering big trucks in traffic for all but about four weeks, when the actual paving occurs, according to David Ulane, assistant aviation director. An additional 1,000 feet will be added onto the south end of the runway (the Buttermilk end), helping ease the weight restrictions that prevent commercial airlines from carrying a full load of passengers and fuel in order to take off when temperatures heat up.The project began in early April with utility work beyond the perimeter fence that rings the airport, but snowy spring weather has already put construction slightly behind schedule.”We’ll be doing Sunday work to try to catch back up,” Ulane said.Before the runway can be extended onto what is now a 1,000-foot, flat, grassy strip – the runway safety area – a new stretch of flat grass will be created – the safety area for the lengthened runway.It means moving about 44,000 cubic yards of dirt, but that fill is already located on the airport grounds, so dump trucks won’t be hauling it in from elsewhere, according to Ulane.The actual paving is scheduled to be done in two periods. The taxiway paralleling the runway will be paved Aug. 15-26, and runway paving is scheduled for Sept. 24-Oct. 5.Asphalt will come from Elam Construction near Woody Creek. In all, 14,420 tons of asphalt will be required – 400 or more truckloads, Ulane said.The project will result in what airport officials hope will be brief impact to travelers. The runway length will be shortened to 6,000 feet on Sept. 13-15 and Oct. 4-6, while work is occurring near the end of the existing, 7,000-foot runway. United Express will cease service on those days. In addition, the relocation of navigational equipment south of the runway could interrupt commercial service. The $15.4 million runway project is being funded with $12.6 million from the Federal Aviation Administration, $447,000 from the Colorado State Division of Aeronautics and $2.4 million from the airport’s reserves.- Janet Urquhart
Aspen recreation supervisor Keith Bulicz admits that it will be unusual to drive past Iselin Field this summer and not hear children playing or the familiar crack of softball bats.While Iselin will be its usual hub of activity in the coming months, it will not be business as usual. Following an upcoming lacrosse tournament, crews will begin tearing out the grass to pave the way for the city’s second artificial turf playing surface. The $650,000 project will encompass 107,000 square feet of turf and is slated to begin May 16, according to Bulicz.”People are going to be curious about what’s going on,” said Stephen Ellsperman, city parks and open space director. “We’re hoping that everybody is going to feel the pain this summer knowing what the end result is going to be. … This is going to have a great impact on the community, and we’re excited to get under way.”Ellsperman said the Iselin undertaking is on schedule, despite the recent fickle weather, and he expects completion in September or October.When finished, Iselin will be a “multi-use field in every sense of the word,” Ellsperman said. The facility will be equipped to accommodate the area’s burgeoning lacrosse and other youth programs, and be a boon for Aspen High sports – particularly the baseball team, which practices and plays its home games in El Jebel. From a use and maintenance standpoint, Ellsperman referred to the city’s first artificial turf project, the Aspen High football field, as a “home run.” He expects nothing less from this latest endeavor. “This will allow us to get on the field early and stay on the field late,” he said. “And maintenance of the field allows much more consistent and heavy use. … This was the way to go in our climate.”Officials surveyed the entire parks system to determine the area best suited for artificial turf, Ellsperman said. An idea to create a special-event field at Wagner Park was bandied about for a time and eventually rejected. Iselin always seemed like the most logical choice, Ellsperman said, in part because “the field is ready to go. It’s pretty much shovel ready.”The immediate loss of one playing field has led to logistical challenges and some creative maneuvering to accommodate the city’s myriad youth and adult programs, Bulicz said. It also has created some opportunities. The parks and recreation department will experiment with wooden bats in its recreation and men’s softball leagues, Bulicz said, and some co-ed teams will even get the chance to play under the lights on the Aspen High football field.Any short-term inconveniences will be well worth it, Bulicz said.”It’s exciting seeing one field go away and the anticipation of another coming on line. This is going to give us a little more flexibility … and just more programming opportunities as a department,” said Bulicz, who intimated that an ultimate Frisbee tournament could take place at Iselin in the fall.- Jon Maletz
The parking lot is still tight and fairly troublesome to navigate. The entrance still resembles a tunnel, framed by particle board. Outside and inside the store, customers can hear the whirr of a nearby table saw slicing bricks in half.But the facelift of Aspen’s City Market grocery store is nearly complete, as is evidenced by the wider aisles, full-service bakery/delicatessen and an expanded meat and seafood market.Renovations to the East Cooper Avenue market began about a year ago. During the process, the store shut down for a few weeks in order to expedite construction, leaving the city with only one other grocery for the bulk of its shopping needs, Clark’s Market. During the most recent closure, from Easter Sunday until early last week, City Market recently was closed for eight days to allow workers to install new shelving and restock the store.A spokeswoman for the grocery chain has said the remaining work should be finished by mid-June.”Anytime you go through a remodel it’s certainly never easy,” said Kelli McGannon. “We know that our customers have a choice in where they shop. We work hard every day to earn their business and giving them a great shopping environment at the end of this is really what we have in mind.”McGannon said that in addition to service and aesthetic improvements, the project sought to better utilize the supermarket’s space.She pointed out that it’s not easy to remodel a store like the one in Aspen. The work could have been completed sooner had the store closed for longer time periods.”It was a challenge, but we made a conscious decision that we owed it to our loyal customers to keep the store open even though we were doing a remodel to this extent,” she said.City Market is owned by publicly traded The Kroger Co., the largest grocery chain in the United States. Its City Market brand of stores can be found in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico. The company would not release information on the cost of the Aspen project, citing policy.- Andre Salvail
The St. Regis Aspen hotel is closed for the offseason but far from quiet.The luxury hotel closed April 4 to launch a $30 million renovation that will transform its 179 rooms and suites. Crews are scrambling to complete 90 rooms in time to open June 14, right before Aspen’s summer season kicks off with the Food & Wine Classic. The remaining rooms will be completed by December.This is the first major renovation of the rooms since the property opened as a Ritz-Carlton Hotel in 1992. The hotel was purchased by a company controlled by OptAsia Capital Co. of Bangkok in October from Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide. The new owner paid $70 million and committed to the renovation. It signed a long-term management contract with Starwood.The hotel’s restaurant, lounge and retail shops will be closed during the spring renovations, but the work won’t really affect the public in any other way. The project required building permits from the city of Aspen but it didn’t require extensive review by the community development department or any review by the Aspen City Council since it was a renovation.The 25 fractional-ownership residences will remain open during the renovation.The makeover for the guest rooms will include separate showers and tubs in the bathrooms as well as new lighting, flooring and walls. Other work at the hotel will include:• Redesigned entry drive court.• New front office, concierge desk and lobby design, intended to create greater interaction with guests.• New library space with fireplace, sofas, bookshelves and game tables.• Relocated restaurant that allows outside dining.• Renovated ballroom and meeting space “inspired by the Gilded Age.”• Renovated fitness center and pool area.”The St. Regis Aspen Resort has retained Rottet Studio to conceptualize a quintessential mountain manor similar to what John Jacob Astor would have designed during the Gilded Age,” the hotel says on its website. “The building will be transformed into an innovative, intriguing structure that is representative of the grand and lavish architecture of that era.”- Scott Condon
When it was announced that Kay and Matthew Bucksbaum were donating $25 million towards a reconstructed Aspen Music School campus, the Aspen Music Festival was giddy. It was not only the largest gift ever given to the Music Festival, but the biggest philanthropic donation in Aspen’s history. Moreover, the school’s Castle Creek campus, with buildings dating to the 1960s, would get a much-needed overhaul, to be designed by the noted local firm Harry Teague Architects.That announcement, though, dates back to late 2007. The ensuing recession squashed the hope that construction would begin in fall 2008; it also dampened the sense of elation. But it’s time to start dreaming again of modern facilities, improved acoustics and a reduction of the flooding threat to the campus. Though there are still some permit applications pending and approvals to be received from the city of Aspen and from Pitkin County, the Music Festival has dusted off the master plan – which has been approved by the county – and is ready to embark on the project. It is estimated that the reconstruction – which will result in six major new buildings, and 19 new buildings in total – will cost in the mid-$50 million range, and will take three to four years to complete.Alan Fletcher, president of the Music Festival, said that what he described as “preliminary work” is scheduled to get underway around Memorial Day. Among the first items on the construction schedule is the Keno Gulch area above the campus, the source of a major mudslide in 1996 that flooded the parking lot, and improving the flow capacities of the on-site ponds, to enhance fire-fighting capabilities.Assuming the process goes smoothly, the Music Festival will start erecting new buildings in late August – ideally, as soon as the festival season ends. The plan is to begin with the “pond cluster” of buildings – a new rehearsal facility, to be called the Edlis-Neeson Building, which includes a music library; plus an adjacent building containing bathrooms and rooms for master classes and meetings.The first year’s projects, including the preliminary work, is expected to cost $13 million.- Stewart Oksenhorn
Five years ago there were grand plans for 625 E. Main St., home to Aspen’s former Stage 3 movie theater.Approvals were in place for a 27,000-square-foot mixed-use building with office and retail space, five free-market residences, five affordable-housing units and 28 parking spaces. Construction began in 2008, but when the economy tanked, so did the project, which Alpine Bank foreclosed on in August 2009, claiming that owner Aspen Main Street Properties of Dallas had defaulted on a $4.7 million loan.Main Street Properties avoided foreclosure, however, by putting the property on the auction block last August. The winning bid belonged to Jeff Cardot, a financial trader from Chicago and part-time homeowner in Snowmass Village. Cardot put down $3.6 million, and the property was his.Now Cardot plans to redevelop the property, which saw about 15 percent of construction completed on it by Main Street Properties before it was suspended in winter 2008.On April 25, the Aspen City Council approved a plan that Cardot and architect Adam Roy described as “a vastly different project” than the one approved five years ago, listing the following changes:• A 12-foot reduction in the already built elevator shaft.• Reduced building height by more than 8.5 feet.• An increase in the setbacks from neighbors on the south side of the building by almost 20 feet.• Reduced mass and scale.• Reduced total floor area ratio (FAR) of about 2,200 square feet.• Reduced density from 10 to five residential units, which includes two affordable-housing (category 4) and three free-market units.• Reduced on-site parking from 26 to 16 spaces, of which 13 would be contained in a sub-grade garage.• Removal of the rooftop party deck.The building would also include three commercial spaces and one office space. While Stage 3 officials could not be reached for comment, a city planner said they still need to file applications for subdivision and PUD agreements, as well as a new building permit. They have 180 days from the April 25 City Council approval to complete the paperwork.”My feeling is they want to get this done as quickly as possible,” the staffer said. – Rick Carroll
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