Town, schools consider project | AspenTimes.com

Town, schools consider project

John Colson

One plan for the property surrounding Carbondale Elementary School calls for a significant affordable housing enclave. The school itself may soon be converted into a nonprofit arts center. (Doug Dotson/Town of Carbondale)

While Carbondale officials have “taken the initiative” in designing a possible housing project on the Carbondale Elementary School site, the two other entities involved say they’re not sure yet exactly what they want.Officials from both the Roaring Fork School District and the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority said Friday they are “interested” in what the town has done, but are awaiting additional discussions before going any further.Carbondale Town Planner Doug Dotson has drawn up a number of possible site plans for converting a portion of the grounds surrounding the school into affordable housing (see illustration).The school is slated for conversion to a town-owned center for nonprofit organizations, and perhaps other entities, if ongoing negotiations with the school district bear fruit. The school district will vacate the building in early January, when teachers, students and staff move into the enlarged Crystal River Elementary School on Snowmass Drive.A meeting today at Town Hall will give local nonprofits a chance to chime in regarding a number of issues, including whether they prefer to lease or own their business space. The meeting is scheduled from approximately 6-8 p.m.Both the school district and RFTA also might send representatives to the meeting to learn about the most recent developments in the process. But, both agencies also are taking a cautious approach to any talks, since both have their own agendas for the future that might or might not work with Carbondale’s plans.School board member Michael Bair said Friday the negotiations with the town of Carbondale are specifically “for just the building.” Those talks, he said, are “separate and distinct” from any talk about building affordable housing on the adjacent grounds, which encompasses the playground around the elementary school and the athletic field that stretches between the elementary and middle schools.That said, Bair added that he and the rest of the school district administration are very interested in what the town is proposing.”The town has taken the initiative,” he said, adding he is hoping that in “the next one or two meetings, we start to move forward with a more definite plan.”He noted the school district has been talking about the need for affordable housing for teachers and staff for at least the three and a half years he’s been on the board and continues to investigate possible sites in Basalt and other locales.But, he said, “I think with what’s happening this year, we really need to pull the trigger,” referring to the worsening shortage of affordable housing.”We need to plug some holes, if we can, before next August,” he said. He added the district should be looking for rental housing in the short term, and making partnerships with other governmental entities to build for-sale housing in the long term.”We’ve been invited to participate,” RFTA CEO Dan Blankenship confirmed Friday.Blankenship said a RFTA official, Mike Hermes, has attended one meeting already about the matter. He also confirmed there has been talk of moving the school district’s bus maintenance operations away from the current facility at Carbondale Middle School, over to RFTA’s Carbondale Maintenance Facility off Independence Place.Blankenship’s agency is eyeing the need to write its own facilities master plan in the next year or two to figure out how best to stretch its budget across three counties. Already, he said, RFTA has moved its buses out of the 15,000-square-foot Carbondale facility, leaving behind mostly office workers and some equipment and “plenty of space.”If the school district is interested in moving its bus maintenance operations to that site temporarily, Blankenship said, “that might work.” And RFTA, just like the school district, is in need of affordable housing for its workforce and could perhaps use office space on the old elementary school grounds if that works out.”We’re interested in knowing more,” he said. “The housing, maybe even more than the office space, has more potential interest for us.”John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com.The Aspen Times, Aspen, Colo.

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