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A true community can-do project in Carbondale

John Stroud, Glenwood Springs Post Independent                                                            Photo: Kelley Cox

CARBONDALE, Colorado – An aging building that had outlived its life as an elementary school and was scheduled for demolition just a few years ago has found new life as one of Carbondale’s grandest gems.

The new Third Street Center is now a bustling hub of activity, as home to a wide range of nonprofit organizations and small businesses, and serving as a general gathering place for the community.
The project was born out of a unique public-private partnership after a series of land exchanges between the town of Carbondale, the Roaring Fork School District and the Carbondale Council on Arts and Humanities put the old school building at 520 Third St. in the hands of the town.
The town took ownership of the building in late 2008, and in turn leased the building and land for 49 years to the newly formed nonprofit Third Street Center.
Then came the hard part. But, in true Carbondale fashion, with a lot of hard work and unbending determination, it all came together.

Organizers worked with the Manaus Fund, one of the many projects of longtime Roaring Fork Valley philanthropist George Stranahan, to provide predevelopment financing.
Alpine Bank stepped up to provide construction and permanent financing, including a concerted effort to use renewable energy and make the renovated building as energy efficient as possible.
There were also numerous grants obtained, and a significant amount of volunteer time and effort from community members, but two years later the hodge-podge of old school buildings dating back to 1960 has been transformed into the Third Street Center.
“The only words I can say are, ‘Look what we’ve done!’” former Carbondale mayor Michael Hassig said during a grand opening celebration June 19 attended by a virtual who’s who of local movers and shakers.
“It’s clear that this is the kind of thing that can only happen in Carbondale,” he said.
“This is a amazing what we have here,” said Alpine Bank-Carbondale President Richard Fuller. “This has definitely been a community effort, and it’s great to see this old building transformed to become a jewel for our community.”
Current Carbondale Mayor Stacey Patch Bernot went to elementary school in the building, and mused at how walking through the redesigned space still brings back memories of her school days.
“I really like how they kept the character of the building intact, and created a next stage of life for it to serve the community,” she said. “When we first started talking about this, I gave it about a 5 percent chance to happen. But it’s a real lesson in how people, and a community, who are determined can step up and make something happen.
“This is a fine example of how a building like this should operate, and it’s another feather in Carbondale’s cap in terms of being a leader on these sorts of things,” Bernot said.
Actually, the Third Street Center isn’t alone in its effort to create a place where multiple nonprofit organizations could share resources, said Colin Laird, the interim executive director for the center.
“We got into this without necessarily knowing, but as we started looking into it we discovered a lot of multi-tenant nonprofit centers around the country,” he said. “We were comforted to know that other places have done it, but most were also in bigger cities and most had a theme, such as all environmental groups.”
Carbondale wanted its center to provide an option for a variety of community-based nonprofits, ranging from the arts, to senior groups, to youth organizations, to human service agencies, as well as environmental organizations.
“We’ve wanted a place for our nonprofits for a long time, and it was a matter of picking a space, figuring out a way to get it funded and finally getting into it,” Laird said.
Efforts were under way to purchase land just outside of town for what was then being called the Sustainability Center of the Rockies.
But when the school building became available, the initiative quickly changed course to try to take advantage of the land trade options and use of an existing building instead, which saved a ton of money.
At the same time, it was a challenge for architects and builders to convert the 44,000-square-foot building, which included a number of additions over the years, into a usable space for multiple users with different needs.
“To get it all to fit together, and work together for everyone involved, it took a little time,” Laird said.
“More than that, what we’ve created is a community building that will hopefully be used fully by the broader community,” he said. “It’s just another place in town that people can take advantage of in terms of gathering.”
A major goal going into the project was to make the revamped building as energy efficient as possible, with an emphasis on use of alternative energy sources, as well as passive solar and lighting features.
“We did pretty darn well, considering what we were working with,” Laird said.
The building includes a 52-kilowatt rooftop solar photovoltaic, which was installed using a third-party Power Purchase Agreement. The Garfield New Energy Communities Initiative also provided a grant for a 1.6 kw solar thermal system over the front entryway.
The old natural gas boiler used for the heating system was replaced with a super-efficient one, and throughout the building skylights and solar tubes were instead to increase the use of day-lighting.
“You go into the building now and almost no one has their lights on,” said project architect Jeff Dickinson.
The skylights, as well as a cupola that was installed over the unique “Round Room” at the west end of the building, also have windows that can let fresh air in and be open during the summer nights to let in cool air, then closed during the day to act as a passive cooling system.
Dickinson said the initial goal was to try to create what’s called a “net zero” building, where the building produces as much energy as it uses.
“We’re probably getting close to half between producing our own energy and conservation efforts,” he said. “We’re creating 30 percent of the energy needs of building, so we’re not saying we’re not tied to the grid, but we did a pretty good job.
“The greenest thing we did was to reuse an existing building, so we didn’t have to do green field development,” Dickinson said.
The center also provides space for a variety of renewable energy oriented and other “green” organizations, including the nonprofit Solar Energy International and solar installer Sol Energy, which installed the rooftop PV system.
Carbondale Council on Arts and Humanities Executive Director Ro Mead feels like she’s been “playing house” since moving into the new Center for the Arts in May.
CCAH relocated from its longtime Main Street location to the Third Street Center, where its space grew from 800 square feet to 2,200 square feet.
“We can do so many more things now,” Mead said. “We can have bigger shows, and it’s a real gallery that’s so much more professional-looking. We can also maybe attract some traveling shows.”
The gallery was named after the late Ron Robertson, the architect and longtime arts supporter who designed the space shortly before he died earlier this year.
“The biggest thing for all of us is the classroom,” Mead said. “That’s something we haven’t had, so we weren’t able to offer our own art classes.”
Already since moving into the new digs, CCAH has hosted a bilingual art class in collaboration with the Aspen Art Museum, and a music camp is planned for July.
CCAH is located in the Round Room section of the building, which also houses a variety of independent studio arts, making for a mini art mecca. CCAH also plans to use the Round Room common space for small performances on occasion.
“We’re really just beginning to realize the potential here,” Mead said.
CCAH reached its $150,000 fundraising goal to complete the space, but is still in constant fundraising mode to pick up some of the other pieces.
“There are still a lot of things we’d like that we didn’t include in our budget,” Mead said. “So, we still have to fundraise.”
CCAH will open its inaugural featured artist exhibit for the July 2 First Friday art walk, when it opens a show of local artist Andy Taylor’s work.
Other organizations operating out of the Third Street Center include the Senior Matters senior citizens group, Mountain Valley Developmental Services, YouthZone, LIFT-UP, the Wilderness Workshop, the Sopris Sun newspaper, and many other nonprofit organizations.
A variety of for-profit businesses are also making use of the space, but pay a slightly higher rent ($12 per square foot compared to $9.75 for nonprofits). The center will also be home to the soon-to-open 3rd Street Cafe, which will offer coffee beverages and snacks for the building’s tenants and anyone who wants to stop by.

jstroud@postindependent.com