LJ Erspamer: Guest Opinion | AspenTimes.com

LJ Erspamer: Guest Opinion

Civic involvement reflects pride, sacrifice and determination to create a better community.

With the encouragement of my good friends Rachel Richards and Tim Anderson, I organized three separate committees to build the Aspen Recreation Center. This rewarding experience created a deep sense of awareness and established new enduring friendships with others who also volunteered their free time to build this wonderful community asset.

During our campaign to solicit private funds for the Lewis Ice Arena, the generous individuals and corporate donors wisely insisted that the Aspen Ice Garden remain open under any but the most serious circumstances.

The city and SPARC created a Citizen Advisory Board to review operations and policies for the ARC and Ice Garden. The city agreed to maintain a transparent and cooperative relationship with this advisory group. Any changes or new policy decisions would be presented to the Citizen Advisory Board for their review and recommendation.

So it took this advisory group by complete surprise when the Aspen Recreation Department announced a suggestion to close the Aspen Ice Garden this summer without referring the decision to the advisory board first.

While we applaud the recreation department’s efforts to search for reductions in the budget, we are alarmed the Citizen Advisory Group was not consulted in advance with this decision. Also at question is whether this was a simple line-item approach rather than a serious search for efficiency within the recreation department.

The unanswered question will be “is the city really going to save money?” There will be no loss of administration costs according to the city, as all staff will work somewhere else.

A well-researched article by Millard Zimet disclosed the alarming 78 percent administration cost of running the Ice Garden. A question is whether the Ice Garden is the dumping ground for excess salaries to clear up operating expenses elsewhere. A recent call to another ice facility in Colorado disclosed average administration expenses at about 30 percent but never more than 40 percent.

The Aspen Ice Garden is very special to the multitude of valleywide hockey players who use this historic facility on a regular basis. This hockey group is a culture with unique passwords of companionship that is comparable to no other. If closed, this essential community facility and the contribution it generates for all of us will be irreplaceable. Most importantly, the true value of the Ice Garden to the community cannot be measured in dollars.

Most hockey users from Aspen do not have the extra time to drive to the Lewis Ice Arena during lunch. The closure of the Ice Garden would rob local users and citizens of precious time. This has been confirmed when ice hockey was transferred to the Lewis Ice Arena due to scheduling conflicts, resulting in a dramatic drop in attendance.

The fire department kept its location on Hopkins Avenue due to the importance of community character and livelihood rather than locating it on Main Street. Since this rationale was supported by City Council, then the Ice Garden should remain open for the same reason.

The biggest concern is the feeling that community decision makers are unaware of the importance of this facility. They might get the false impression that it will not be needed. Consequentially, in the endless search for employee housing, there is a deep concern that the Ice Garden in the fall would not reopen, but instead be closed permanently and torn down for a condominium project with fourth-floor free-market penthouses to finance the employee housing. The employee housing need would not extinguish any current demand. These large developments are employee housing neutral at best.

Many times throughout the long process of building the ARC, the dedicated volunteers were reassured that this wouldn’t happen.

The citizens of Aspen are concerned about the shifting sands of promises. This is a call to arms to have all those interested in preserving an essential public facility that promotes a great sense of community character and pride to attend Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

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