The Aspen School District is exploring an expansion of employee housing on its 5-acre West Ranch site in Woody Creek, according to members of the district’s senior administration. Up to eight units in a duplex-style configuration could be sought.
There are 10 units in five duplexes on the property now that were developed on land first acquired in 1998. Superintendent John Maloy said Thursday the district would favor more of the same style housing, rather than a single-family home as was contemplated in one early plat.
He anticipates a future conversation with Pitkin County “about the possibility of extending our building envelope in order to maximize space that is available, since housing is in a high need not just in the district, but in the county,” Maloy said.
At a May 7 meeting, the school board was apprised of some development concepts by architect Gilbert Sanchez.
“This week we have reconvened with [Sanchez] and asked him to help us employ a civil engineer to lay out more of the specifics” of what the water, sewer and other infrastructure needs look like, Maloy said.
Sheila Kennedy Wills, president of the Aspen School District board of education, explained the concept for the parcel.
“What we’re looking at is whether or not we could put a few additional units down there and develop something that made sense for our teaching staff and for the neighborhood.”
“We’ve got 20 people on a waiting list for housing and only two units opening up,” Wills said Thursday. “The need is obvious.”
Maloy said in future discussions about build out of West Ranch, “we’d like to at least have a conversation about a minimum of eight additional units.” The building envelope is about one-acre though the total land in West Ranch is 5 acres.
According to Kate Fuentes, chief financial officer for the school district, the district currently owns 44 employee housing units. The units are located in Snowmass Village, the Aspen Business Center, Aspen Highlands, Cemetery Lane, West Ranch and Basalt.
Wills said the discussion about using more of the West Ranch site has been ongoing for almost a year. She said no decisions have been made including how the project would be funded.
“That’s always an issue. But it makes sense to start thinking about what we need,” she said.
Maloy said a bond issue or certificate of participation could be considered, and that a conversation would be initiated for taxpayer input.
“We’re not far enough down the road to make a determination which is in the best interests of the district or the community,” Maloy said.
Critical for recruitment, retention
The West Ranch site has certain topographical constraints that could determine the size of a future phase. Those include power lines in the front the property, Wills said.
Fuentes said that discussions to date with the school board have been “really general and focused on different site concepts such as, ‘This is what it might look like with X number of units.’” A report back from the civil engineer will help with some of that decision making, she said.
This is the only piece of land the district owns that could be developed for housing, Fuentes said.
The last teacher housing developed by the Aspen School District was a 15-unit complex in Snowmass Village that opened in 2010.
Wills, who will be president of the school board through November, emphasized, “For the last couple of years, one of the primary goals has been teacher attraction and retention. When we talked to teachers about what they really needed” two things rose to the top.
The first was “additional dollars,” which the district attempted to address through an improved salary schedule and staff development opportunities. In March, the school board authorized the first across-the-board salary hike in 12 years. The 5.25 percent raise included increasing the starting salary for new teachers to $42,000.
The second request of teachers was “to make sure we could supply additional housing,” Wills said. It remains a priority.
Maloy agreed. “Housing is very important in the recruiting and retaining of our staff,” he said. “Anything we can do, especially with land that we currently own, is of high priority to us. It’s great the board has engaged in an exploratory conversation about how we might maximize housing at West Ranch.”
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