The Aspen School District has not wasted much time in finding places for its employees to live since securing $50 million in voter-approved bonding dedicated to housing teachers and staff.
ASD has spent about $17.5 million so far, with the latest acquisition being eight units on Waters Avenue picked up for $5 million, as well as $2.1 million put into renovations of the 50-year-old building.
“The seller sold this to us at a very generous discount, and he feels very strongly about the community getting involved in helping essential workers,” said Elen Woods-Mitchell, the district’s housing program manager.
The seller, who asked to remain anonymous, said he sold the property because he believes that the schools are the bedrock of the community.
“The district lost of a bunch of employees because of housing, and that’s not right,” he said.
The property, known as the Red Doors — home to hundreds of ski bums and parties over the years and considered a rite of passage as an Aspenite to have experienced either — was appraised by Realtors at $25 million.
“It was a lot of money I could’ve obtained, but I think this is the best result we could have gotten, giving the school district unencumbered free-market housing,” the seller said. “There are many people sitting on property that could be sold for essential workers, and I didn’t want to give it away. But, I did my part and gave back to the town and will continue to.”
He first had thought of deed-restricting the property and began the planning process through the city but realized, after a few months, that it would have cost too much time and money.
“The city’s bureaucracy made it too cumbersome,” he said.
What he did not know at the time of selling directly to ASD, which became a boon in the effort to get 36 bedrooms available to teachers quickly, is that school districts are exempt from local government jurisdictions, from a permitting and planning perspective.
That translated into getting the renovation work done in months rather than years.
“What that means is that the purview of this work was done and permitted through the Colorado Department of Education,” said Bob Daniel, principal of Gateway Management Co. and the district’s owner’s representative on the project.
The district bought the two lots in December and January. Once the previous tenants moved out, the renovation by B2B builders began May 1, and construction was completed by Aug. 1.
“We kind of took a pledge to each other to make it happen at the beginning, and it’s been a great partnership,” Woods-Mitchell said.
The four- and five-bedroom units have been completely overhauled with new doors, appliances, fixtures, windows, flooring, skylights and everything in between — including asbestos abatement and environmental testing.
Mark Janian, project manager for B2B Builders, said things moved quickly even in a time of labor shortages and supply-chain interruptions.
“We went down to Lowe’s, bought what we could. From day one, we ordered all of our cabinets, ordered our windows, called in favors,” Janian said earlier this week during a site tour.
That expeditious process allowed three new employees and their families to move in this week. Two middle school teachers from Telluride, and a sign-language interpreter from Denver who will assist the athletic director.
Woods-Mitchell said the goal was to have the units ready in conjunction with the teacher calendar.
“It’s hard to make these units available mid-year because everyone hits the ground running mid-August,” she said.
The units are being rented at $2,400 a month, or $600 a bedroom.
Not all of the units are spoken for yet, but they will be soon, Woods-Mitchell predicted.
“These are to attract and retain, so it’s to attract a new hire or have us hold onto teachers that are with us,” she said. “Right now, our priority — per our mission statement — is teachers, district staff and hard-to-fill positions, and those are like special education teachers and counselors.”
The district’s other significant acquisition of housing was near the intersection of Eighth Street and West Hallam Street on the site that was formerly home to Poppies Bistro Cafe.
The district’s purchase of the Hallam property — which includes seven units in three buildings for $6.6 million — marked what district officials for months have cited as the first major housing acquisition funded by a $114-million bond that’s intended for facilities maintenance and improvements and teacher housing.
The bond spending breaks down to about $45 million in facilities work, $50 million in housing (most of that for acquisitions) and $20 million in discretionary funds.
Rents at the Hallam property are $900 per month for the single one-bedroom unit, $1,600 per month for each of a couple of two-bedroom units, $2,100 per month for each of a few three-bedroom units and $2,400 for the single four-bedroom unit onsite.
Schools Superintendent David Baugh said this week that if they hadn’t acquired the West Hallam and Waters properties, it would have been challenging to be at full staff, leading to a teacher shortage and larger classroom sizes, among other challenges.
“We really would’ve been up the proverbial creek,” he said.
The district also has purchased a one-bedroom condo in downtown Aspen with the bond money, as well as three units in Snowmass Village, two on Main Street in Aspen and another one in Basalt.
Altogether, those acquisitions translate into 13 bedrooms.
The goal is to have 143 units at the end of the current bond, Woods-Mitchell noted.
In July 2021, the district had 64 units to offer — 57 owned and seven sublet. Starting Aug. 15, it will have 91 units to offer — 74 owned and 17 sublet.
The district currently has 263 employees, of which 150 are certified as teachers.
By: Carolyn Sackariason I The Aspen Times I August 4, 2022