VAIL — The people who run the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens have been trying to build a home — an office and education center — since the 1990s. That effort could take a big step forward tonight.
A home for the gardens is the central part of a planned discussion about a new “master plan” for Ford Park. The park management and future development are now governed by a handful of plans dating to the 1980s. Those plans don’t always agree with each other, which became obvious as town officials started planning an improvement program for the park a couple of years ago.
That program’s first phases — improvements to the Ford Amphitheater and the athletic fields — started last year, and, in the case of the fields, will continue into next year. Another phase included building a plaza outside the amphitheater and an office/education center for the gardens at the site of the old schoolhouse that now serves as the gardens’ gift shop. The building as originally proposed would have been about 3,000 square feet, mostly for educational programs, but with some for offices and starting and growing plants.
That part of the work encountered public opposition this year from residents who didn’t want to see any more construction in the park. The town council in March withdrew its approval for those projects and has since asked town staff to write one plan that will govern the park’s future use.
The latest work on that plan includes finding a new place for the office/education center. Town staff members whittled down an original list of seven potential sites to three — at the old schoolhouse, at the west end of the soccer fields on the south side of Gore Creek, and a site on West Betty Ford Way. The third of those options is the one town staff will recommend to the council.
George Ruther, Vail Community Development Department director, said there’s a lot to recommend the West Betty Ford Way site. The main item is that the small parcel isn’t currently claimed by any other users. The site is at the west end of the kids’ playground, and just east and north of the bridge between Manor Vail and the park. The site is near parking at both Vail Village and Ford Park and is near the recreation paths along the frontage road and the creek.
The potential site is also on enough of a slope that a building could be built into the hillside enough to have just one visible exterior wall and a planted roof. Vehicle access would be limited to loading and delivery, and whatever vehicles did go to the building wouldn’t conflict with too much pedestrian traffic.
Ruther said the building could also double as public restrooms for the playground. The biggest potential problems, Ruther said, would be access for disabled visitors and the fact there are several utility lines at the site.
If the town council eventually approves the site — the plan has to go through another couple of steps before becoming official — the gardens would finally have something virtually every other botanic garden in the region has — a facility in the same place as the outdoor parts of the operation.
Gwen Scalpello, the secretary of the gardens’ board of directors and a longtime volunteer, said executive director Nicola Ripley currently grows plants in her basement because there’s nowhere else to do the job.
A site for a permanent home would also allow the gardens to raise money to build a building. Liz Campbell, the gardens’ development director, said there’s already a lot of enthusiasm for that project, if it comes to pass.
“This has been part of the plan for so long, there are a lot of people who would be thrilled to see it come to fruition,” Campbell said, adding that an education center “would elevate us to the place we really need to be.”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2939 or at smiller@vail daily.com.
The latest work on that plan includes finding a new place for the office\/education center. Town staff members whittled down an original list of seven potential sites to three — at the old schoolhouse, at the west end of the soccer fields on the south side of Gore Creek, and a site on West Betty Ford Way.