Mountain Rescue Aspen on Friday submitted a 109-page land-use application to Pitkin County in its pursuit to build a new 12,500-square-foot facility on Highway 82 across from the airport.
Officials with the Pitkin County community development department will review the plans for completeness and then hand the proposal over to the planning and zoning commission, which will make a recommendation to the county commissioners for final approval, or denial.
“It involves a rezoning so it’s a two-step review,” said Lance Clark, assistant planning director for Pitkin County.
MRA board president Doug Paley said now that the building plans have become official, the nonprofit organization will begin in earnest its capital fundraising campaign to help pay for the new facility. The all-volunteer organization, which is dedicated to backcountry search and rescue and is an arm of the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, received a $1.5 million grant last year from Oklahoma resident Lynda Cameron. Cameron was rescued by a MRA team after her father’s plane crashed in the Capitol Creek Valley during a snowstorm on Nov. 27, 1977. Her father, C.B. Cameron, was killed in the crash; Lynda and four others, including her mother, brother and the pilot, were rescued.
MRA officials estimate that the new facility, where Planted Earth Nursery now sits, will cost between $2 million and $2.5 million to build.
The plans for MRA’s new headquarters are being developed by the nonprofit’s board, in conjunction with the local firms of Charles Cunniffe Architects and Stan Clauson Associates. The design process is driven by the need to fit modern-day operations, training, vehicles and equipment within the constraints of the property now occupied by the upvalley location of Planted Earth Nursery.
MRA is under contract to purchase the 1-acre parcel where the nursery is located; Planted Earth’s Aspen location will close in November and its inventory will be moved to the business’ Carbondale location.
To pay for the rest of the facility’s costs, MRA will dip into its reserves, set aside specifically for new headquarters, as well as rely on philanthropic contributions.
“We have some big out-of-the box thinking for fundraising ... we are thinking of naming opportunities” for the facility, Paley said, adding the organization will reach out to individuals and corporations for donations. “We are very aggressive in our fundraising efforts.”
The MRA capital campaign will be highlighted by a fundraiser at L’Hostaria on Dec. 9 with keynote speaker Aron Ralston, the former Aspenite who cut his own arm off in the Utah desert to free himself from a dislodged boulder, which had trapped him there for five days in 2003.
At the request of Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo, commissioners this week agreed to make a supplemental appropriation to his department to pay for MRA’s planning fees, which are estimated to cost $11,412 for the community development department to review the land-use application.
Commissioners held off on the request to also pay for the building permit fees, which based on the valuation of construction, is estimated to be as much as $34,595 — not including impact fees, according to a rough calculation done by Vicki Monge, the county’s building permit advocate.
When MRA was officially founded in 1965, it consisted of about 16 local, experienced mountaineers. In those days, there were none of the required medical credentials, modern rope rescue, and search or vehicle systems that are required today.
MRA now has about 50 volunteers, who must continuously train and re-certify their medical and rescue credentials, as well as maintain all the vehicles and equipment in a constant state of readiness. MRA remains the primary agency responsible for search and rescue in Pitkin County’s backcountry, which comprises most of its nearly 1,000 square miles.
For 47 years, MRA has operated out of a pan-abode cabin on Main Street. Although it was expanded in 1989 to add a garage and upstairs meeting room, the structure is far too small to accommodate the current team’s needs, according to a press release issued Friday by MRA.
The submitted design for the new facility is approximately three quarters of the size of the Aspen Volunteer Fire Department’s North 40 facility. Half of the proposed facility is garage space for the team’s three trucks, snowmobiles, ATVs and associated trailers. Currently these vehicles are spread out between the current cabin, the Zupancis property on Main Street next to the courthouse and, seasonally, the Forest Service’s parking lot near the S-curves, as well as MRA members’ personal homes. The rest of the facility includes command and control, training and meeting space, locker room, an on-site apartment for an active maintenance person and other needed functional spaces.