Carroll: Aspen Science Center for the win

Meredith C. Carroll
Muck Off

If you’d told me as I suffered like a Guantanamo prisoner through 10th-grade chemistry class that someday I’d advocate unequivocally for a science center over a brewpub, I’d assume I had misheard you on account of my ears clogged from all the waterboarding.

But that’s the funny thing, isn’t it, about how life changes? Despite what my dad may tell you, I’m all grown up now and more in search of smart, creative activities to do with my kids than ways to blow off steam without them (although let’s be clear: While I’m always game for cocktails, apparently Child Protective Services gets touchy when you belly up to a bar with a preschooler).

As the Aspen City Council enters the homestretch in making a decision about what will occupy the old Aspen Art Museum space, the nonprofit Aspen Science Center is unequivocally the right choice.

Throw a rock and you’ll hit someone who moved to Aspen to ski, raft, camp, hike, bike, paint, read, pray, create and write — and, of course, celebrate the profusion of divine opportunities. Basically, to people in search of a year-round party, Aspen is mecca. However, for those who move here to frolic and then end up staying because it’s also an idyllic place to raise children, in just nine months, Aspen goes from being a veritable adult playground to the equivalent of the person left standing by idly in a game of musical chairs.

It’s not that there’s nothing to do with kids, of course. Music, gym, dance, nature and art classes are available, although not usually on a daily or drop-in basis. There’s story time at the library and climbing and ice skating at the Aspen Recreation Center. Yet for a community with schools that rank among the top in the nation — and with families flocking here on vacation — there is a scarcity of extracurricular options for kids in search of imaginative and intelligent pursuits who might be too young to ski or simply are not in the mood to swim.

The Aspen Science Center has commendably existed for a decade without a home. If chosen to occupy the space, it plans to establish a facility that fosters learning in science, technology, engineering and mathematics in a dynamic and interactive way. Even without four walls, the science center already has remarkably established festivals, preschool science classes, science birthday parties, street fairs, stargazing events, science and music collaborations and regular barbecues for kids that incorporate educational games.

With an actual home base, it would add a cafe, science store, astronomy area, films, lectures and regular hands-on exhibits for children and adults. The center also foresees regular science field-trip visits for classes from Aspen to Rifle, starting with preschoolers and going right through high school. The closest facilities with those kinds of offerings are in Denver, Grand Junction and Durango.

On the other hand, affordable, cozy nooks that ooze character where people can meet and drink locally already exist (Justice Snow’s, Hops Culture and the J-Bar spring to mind). The organization proposing to turn the building into a biergarten and restaurant, the Aspen Brewing Co., also has a space — smack in the middle of restaurant row, no less.

The Aspen Brewing Co. would share the building with Aspen 82, where the latter would broadcast live TV from a glass-enclosed studio. With all due respect, though, the reason NBC’s “Window on the World,” the street-level studio for “Today,” is an attraction is because of its location in the famed Rockefeller Plaza, where name-brand news anchors and A-list celebrities are regularly on display. It would seem North Mill Street is hardly the same kind of draw.

Another proposal wants to turn the space into a “gathering place for our community — a place that exemplifies spirituality — one that unites people together and welcomes any group to use the center.” That sounds lovely, although the new Aspen Chabad on Main Street has offered to rent space to people of any faith for meetings, classes and events. There also is an abundance of welcoming religious organizations that hold services on Aspen and Snowmass mountains. If the mountains themselves are your god, yoga and live music abound on the Sundeck on summer weekends.

The Red Brick wants to manage the space as a performance center. Except with the Wheeler Opera House, Theatre Aspen’s Hurst Theatre in Rio Grande Park, the District Theater at the elementary school, Black Box at the high school and a studio space in the Red Brick itself, it’s difficult to imagine that anyone looking to entertain an audience is lacking venue options.

Organizations such as GrassRoots TV that long for more legroom place them in the good company of many local people and organizations, most of whom eventually find peace with the fact that they are fortunate just to have a spot downtown at all.

Nonetheless, all of the finalists are laudable. It’s just that only one fills a void for underserved families and children. Since the mountains can’t be moved to create more space, the best use needs to be made of what’s already in existence for those who don’t have a room of their own.

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