Comand Center

This architectural rendering depicts how a combined Aspen Fire Protection District mobile command center and Woody Creek Community Center would look. The district and a local nonprofit agreed Tuesday to consider a partnership to start the project.

Citizens who have been seeking a new community space in Woody Creek found a willing partner in the Aspen Fire Protection District this week.

During the district’s monthly meeting Tuesday, board members voted to move forward on a plan for a new building that would include housing and serve as an incident command center if needed. It would also host formal and informal community gatherings.

Janet Schoeberlein has been actively seeking a new gathering place since the Woody Creek Community Center closed two years ago.

“We’ve all missed it greatly since it’s been gone,” said Schoeberlein, who is nearly 90 and has been around Woody Creek since the 1960s. She said there is no longer a spot for locals to run into each other or catch up, especially the older and less well-off portion of the population.

“We sat around there and played Bananagrams, and now we stand up at the post office and talk to each other because we don’t have a meeting place,” Schoeberlein said.

When the community center closed, Schoeberlein formed a nonprofit called The Gathering Place to scout new locations for the community. They had several false starts, or opportunities that were not in easy walking distance from the heart of Woody Creek. Then they proposed to the fire district that they could build a new building on property that the district already owns on Upper River Road.

The new building would be funded by The Gathering Place, but owned by the Aspen Fire Protection District and leased back to the group as a community center. As proposed, the building would be around 1,500 square feet, including an upstairs apartment for use by fire district personnel. The downstairs space would be for community meetings and would include a small kitchenette.

Aspen Fire Department would get priority over use of the community space if it needed it for meetings or trainings, and could even use the building as an incident command center if a wildfire were to break out nearby or up Lenado. The Gathering Place is proposing that at other times, a volunteer would open up the space as an informal place for residents to stop in and have coffee, play cards and chat with friends.

“We miss the contacts,” Schoeberlein said, regarding the use of the former center space. “You know you would see people there and find the guy that does the knife sharpening or just make contact with people.”

A new building also could be used as a meeting place for the Woody Creek Caucus and for other public and community meetings.

Schoeberlein said the structure itself is relatively simple and estimates the total cost of the development to be $750,000. Now that the fire district board has given approval to move forward with the plan, the nonprofit will begin fundraising locally, seeking grants that support public-private capital campaign projects.

“The fact that we are cooperating with the fire department seems to be very helpful,” Schoeberlein said, “especially since there were so many fires last summer.”

“My feeling is that this is a very positive public-private partnership and the main point is public safety down there,” Fire Chief Rick Balentine said during Tuesday’s board meeting.

“It’s going to add public safety to Woody Creek in general, especially with wildfire season. The quicker we can get to wildfires in the summertime and get them out quickly the better,” he added.

Tuesday’s meeting marks the first step in the process. The district will now work on drafting a memorandum of understanding with The Gathering Place. Specifics about the open drop-in hours and exact schematics have yet to be worked out.

Architect Joede Schoeberlein presented some draft sketches at the board meeting. The building would be built into the hill, a short distance downvalley from the existing fire station that houses a wildfire engine. It would be a short walking distance from the Woody Creek Tavern and nearby trailer park.

“The concept is to take an old western storefront and make it contemporary,” Joede Schoeberlein told the board.

The fire district would be the applicant should plans be presented to county officials. Because the project might receive taxpayer funding, it could get fast tracked or qualify for certain land-use variances.

Janet Schoeberlein said she looks forward to having a gathering place where residents feel comfortable connecting as a community again.

“It’s an opportunity to meet people and see people you wouldn't meet otherwise,” she said.

Alycin Bektesh is a reporter for the Aspen Daily News. She can be reached at Alycin@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @alycinwonder.