Pryor: Long-term vision, not short-term solutions
Thank you for the opportunity to share some important information regarding the Aspen police and City Hall building-replacement projects.
In letters to the editor last week published in both newspapers, a number of observations were made about the projects, particularly regarding their size. I understand the concerns and frustrations of many in the community about these issues. All of us have our perspectives on development mass and scale, the “busyness” of town, frustrations over construction-related traffic, the feel of “big” government, and the value of the historical character of Aspen.
As your police chief, I have a fundamental obligation to provide essential public-safety services to our community. Our current police operations run out of two disparate locations, which is not conducive to an effectively run department. In 2018, the Police Department has been asked to vacate its space in the county courthouse. We will lose our Police Department space, which means we will have no front office, records, patrol work area, evidence processing and storage, or interview space. This is due to Pitkin County’s need to redevelop its own building to accommodate its space needs, including county offices and the Sheriff’s Office. As Sheriff Joe DiSalvo has observed in the past, the Aspen Police Department and Sheriff’s Office are currently in the position of trying to provide 21st-century police services in 19th-century facilities, and even those facilities are going away. These projects are about long-term vision, not short-term solutions.
To provide some context to the proposed Aspen Police Department building, sizes of other comparable mountain-town police departments are as follows: Breckenridge is 11,237 square feet; Vail is 19,500 square feet; Glenwood Springs is 12,500 square feet; Snowmass Village is 6,800 square feet; and Park City, Utah, is 22,718 square feet. The planned Aspen Police Department building is currently 15,800 square feet plus underground parking. Most local service agencies in the valley have facilities commensurate with their needs. For example, the Aspen Fire Barn on Hopkins Avenue has around 21,000 square feet, Mountain Rescue Aspen at the Aspen Business Center has 13,900 square feet, and Aspen Valley Hospital has about 88,000 square feet. It is a priority for us to provide a building in which we are able to treat our customers with dignity and respect, a goal that has been a challenge for years in our current location. My point is that in order to provide the high standard of service this community so rightly demands, whether police or sheriff, we need to build appropriately sized facilities to enable us to provide that service now and into the future.
The same perspective translates to the proposed City Hall building. Planning for the City Hall building at Galena Street is still undergoing initial conceptual design and is tentatively sized at 57,000 square feet, which includes some added program for an innovation space and a new space for the Aspen Chamber Resort Association. In a vote in November, the community advised the City Council to consider the repurposing of the existing City Hall (Armory) to community use, with the consequence that city offices need relocating. It is far less expensive to the taxpayer to construct a new City Hall than lease space in perpetuity. Not only is leased space difficult to find, but we have heard from the public in a multitude of open houses a strong preference to house city services under one roof.
We are acutely aware of keeping building sizes appropriate to the service needs of the community and the character of Aspen. This is why we have undertaken two years of study and design, with much public outreach, to come to the point that we find ourselves today. We have “Aspen sized” our space, cutting office sizes dramatically and combining spaces, while at the same time including some space for community use. After all, these are to be your buildings.
I would love the opportunity to sit down and review the Aspen Police Department’s plans with any member of the community, hopefully to allay fears and gain further support but at least to present our perspective and hear your concerns. Please reach out to me at 970-274-4101, where I welcome your call. I believe this is an exceptionally exciting opportunity for the Police Department and community and look forward to the day the Aspen Police Department is located under one roof again. To date we have received remarkable support for our project, for which I would like to thank our community so very much.
Richard Pryor is chief of the Aspen Police Department.
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