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A large abandoned building owned by Eagle County near Crown Mountain Park contains a disassembled pavilion that used to stand nearby.

Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the current edition of the Roaring Fork Weekly Journal, an Aspen Daily News sister publication serving the midvalley.

If you’ve ventured to the far end of Crown Mountain Park, past the soccer fields, playground and tennis courts, you’ve no doubt noticed the big, windowless, slightly dilapidated and kind of spooky-looking cinderblock building adjacent to the U.S. Forest Service parcels along Valley Road.

It’s a structure that, along with a similarly dilapidated multibay garage and a smaller electrical building, has been an afterthought for the last 18 years as Crown Mountain Park has grown and evolved next to it. But the big building’s future is becoming a bigger topic of conversation these days. 

The Crown Mountain BMX bike park’s expansion will practically reach the doorstep of the building next spring, and the Forest Service parcels, totaling about 30 developable acres, will be up for sale or lease at some point in the next few years. There are a lot of questions about what’s going to happen to the big building, and at this point, those questions only beget more questions.

Originally built in 1962 as a tree processing building at the Forest Service’s Mount Sopris Tree Farm, the solidly constructed, 17,391-square-foot building includes a large great room with an impressive ceiling of arched wooden beams, four 30-by-80-foot rooms, including one that was refrigerated, another good-sized room and two bathrooms on the main floor. Down in the basement there’s a Cold War-era community bomb shelter.  

“When I was a kid, they were growing trees in those buildings to put on Forest Service land,” said Robert Hubbell, a Crown Mountain Park board member who grew up in El Jebel and whose family was instrumental in the acquisition of the park property. 

“My grandfather, Floyd Crawford, worked with Eagle County commissioners Dale Grant and Dick Gustafson, and they organized a land swap between the Forest Service and Eagle County to get the property in exchange for some old mining claims.”

That happened around 1989, when the property contained three other buildings, and Eagle County took over ownership of the buildings, if not exactly their maintenance. The buildings went mostly unused and untended for the next decade plus until two Carbondale residents, Royal Laybourn and Herb Weisbard, started operating the Mount Sopris SK8 Park, an entity of questionable legality, in one of the buildings.

Sadly, a 10-year-old boy was killed at the skate park in 2001 when a heavy steel rail fell on him. After that, the buildings were shuttered for good, and, in 2009, three of the structures, including the one that housed the skate park, were demolished, although the trusses and doors from one of the buildings, a pavilion of sorts, are cataloged and stored in the great room of the still-standing large building.

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Closed for many years, this large building owned by Eagle County could be torn down or refurbished and repurposed, although both options would be costly.

The beams were intended for repurposing some day — ideas include a pavilion at the Eagle County fairgrounds — but though the notion was well-intentioned, it underscores the difficulty Eagle County faces when it comes to this particular dilemma.

A profile done on the building a few years ago determined that “the salvaged wood would be costly to move,” meaning that now it’s just adding to the litany of concerns the profile had with the building. Among the others are unconnected sewer and water systems, extensive water and vermin damage, a roof that needs to be replaced and an electrical system that only works in half of the great room.

Most importantly, though, the profile concluded that “asbestos in building would need to be mitigated.” A study done last month determined that there is, indeed, asbestos in the building, but it’s mostly contained within the cinderblocks, meaning that that it might not pose much of a threat as long as the blocks remain undisturbed.

As Crown Mountain Park’s active-use areas have gotten closer to the building, “we started wondering if it was safe,” said Becky Wagner, Crown Mountain Park’s executive director, “and we started wondering what was going to happen with these buildings.”

The park took over much of the garage for storage, but the tree-processing building was still a bit of a mystery until recently when Wagner and others decided to go see what they had.

What they found was a spacious, high-ceilinged great room that could conceivably be used as is if certain factors work out. The space must be deemed safe for the general public, of course, and the electrical system needs to be repaired, but the profile from a few years ago noted that the room “appears to be in sound structural condition and may be salvaged for reuse/repurposing.”

For Crown Mountain Park, it could mean the answer to a problem that has vexed their efforts to have a fieldhouse for winter activities. Any new construction at the park would require a multimillion-dollar upgrade to the intersection of Valley Road and Highway 82 — which the park can’t afford — but a temporary facility in the existing building could possibly circumvent that stumbling block.

Well, that is, as long as the park can figure out what to do with the cataloged wood currently taking up all the space in the room. Just removing it could kill the entire budget for a fieldhouse. Eagle County has offered to help come up with a solution, but nothing has been talked about just yet.

When it comes to the building’s long-term future, things are equally unclear. The unelectrified west wing, home to the four 80-by-30 rooms “will most likely need to be demolished,” according to the profile, but even that will be problematic. Due to asbestos in the walls, the building would have to be taken apart very carefully and expensively, meaning that an extensive makeover could be a slightly less costly alternative.

That option would only bring up more questions about what to fill up such a big building with. How about a child care facility? What about a senior center? Could a fieldhouse go there permanently?

Good questions all, and they may be answered in due time, but for now the big building will go on being unnoticed by most, growing a little more dilapidated as the years go by.

Todd Hartley writes for the Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at todd@aspendailynews.com.