The high price of not paying attention |

The high price of not paying attention

We missed something outrageous in the design of the new Pitkin County office building. In the traditional Aspen way of obsessing over building heights and square footage, we missed a functional aspect in the latest governmental development project sure to boil taxpayer blood.

On an anonymous tip from an offended and concerned county staffer, I had a close look at the blueprints of the administrative edifice currently rising behind the courthouse. As the tipster claimed, the finished building will contain eight rooms dubiously marked “personal privacy rooms.” Cumulatively, these rooms will comprise about 4,000 square feet of taxpayer funded space.

I spoke with Deborah Cline, an architect on the project, about the function of these rooms. Her answer was slightly evasive.

“We found there was a problem with the restrooms in the old building,” she told me. Employees complained regularly of having to frequently wait to use the facilities because they seemed to be continually occupied. “We found this odd, because the toilet facilities seemed appropriate for an office space with that employee population,” she said.

Consultants were called in to the tune of $175,000 and, through an anonymous survey, they discovered that employees were using the bathroom facilities for something more like recreation than taking care of business.

“What we discovered,” Cline said, “is that employees were using the facilities for private matters not commonly associated with the primary functional design of a public restroom.”

When I pressed her about what exactly that meant, she replied, “We were purposefully nonspecific as to that in the survey to ensure we received honest feedback.”

I spoke with Andorell Hall, personnel personal resource director for the county, and he explained, “Many of our employees are engaged daily in highly stressful work. We discovered that there are times when they need to get away from their desks and into some private space to relieve some of that stress. I don’t ask questions. What we do know is that respondents to the survey reported feelings like ‘relieved’ and ‘satisfied’ after their ‘bathroom breaks.’”

I suggested that the dedication of more square footage for this purpose than what is typical for living space for most working Aspenites at a cost of over $3 million (based on overall cost per square foot of the project) could be a point of contention for taxpayers. “We didn’t try to keep it a secret,” Hall told me. “Those rooms were in the plans since the first public meeting.”

In fairness, Cline told me when I discussed this point with her, “Assuming steady annual 7 percent raises for all county office workers, we project that the elimination of the cost of lost productive time of people waiting to use the restrooms along with the productivity gains in stress reduction will result in a payback period of this added expense of just less than 22 years. In other words, the rooms will pay for themselves by the year 2040.”

I will ask you now to stop here and pass this outrageous story on to all of your friends and followers. The rest of this column is filler that the average person will not be nearly as interested in.

Statistics show that lies, like the whopper I just told above, travel faster through social media and reach far more people than the truth. This is according to a recent study published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and funded by Twitter.

As reported by Seth Borenstein of The Associated Press, “(MIT researchers) found that ‘fake news’ sped through Twitter ‘farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information.’”

Other findings of the study:

• False stories take about 10 hours to reach 1,500 Twitter users. True stories take about 60 hours for the same saturation.

• False information reaches about 35 percent more people than true news.

• While true news almost never gets retweeted to 1,000 people, the top 1 percent of false stories reaches as many as 100,000 people.

• False information can get regenerated as many as 24 times. True information seems to max out at about a dozen times.

The seductive voice of social media has told us what she wants. She has proclaimed that the inviolable laws of supply and demand have caused the commercial value of fake news to be greater than that of the truth. This is the reason news media are now tempted to lean toward exaggeration, sensationalism and ignoring facts that might kill the impact of a story. This is more than a little ironic in a world that knows fake news is all around and, almost to a person, claims to abhor it and avoid it.

Roger Marolt has started to read tea leaves to get his news. Email at

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