Former Gypsum leader begins work as Eagle County manager
GYPSUM — Gypsum Town Council member Pam Schultz vividly remembers meeting Jeff Shroll, the community’s longtime manager, nearly 25 years ago.
“When this young man walked through the door at town hall, I thought he was lost,” she said. “Then when he said he was our new town manager, I thought ‘Oh my.’”
At the time, Schultz wasn’t alone in her trepidation. “I think we were all concerned about how young he was, but we were all wrong. He turned out to be an excellent manager.”
The proof is in the numbers. Shroll has been at the helm of the town of Gypsum since 1993. But now, for just the second time in his adult life, Shroll is walking into a new office as he begins work as Eagle County manager.
Shroll said it is bittersweet to leave his former post but the timing was right for a change, not only for him personally but also for the community.
“Gypsum has some great people working for the town and I have always thought I didn’t want to be stagnate in my career,” he said. “I started to think ‘Is it the time right for a new set of eyes to look after the town?’ Every organization can benefit from a fresh look.”
Shroll said about 18 months ago he started seriously considering applying for the county manager job. He noted it offered a great professional challenge without having to make the wrenching decision to leave a community he loves.
“My three-minute commute has turned into a whopping 10-minute commute,” Shroll said.
But on a serious level, Shroll believes he can serve the county well.
“I have a strong desire to see all the local governments in the county succeed,” he continued. “We all serve the same taxpayers.”
While Shroll has spent more than half of his life in Gypsum, he was actually born in Denver, raised in Grand Junction and graduated from Heritage High School. Following high school he enrolled at Western State College.
“I love the outdoors and Gunnison is a hunting and fishing mecca,” Shroll said. During the summers he worked at Elk Creek Ranch. “I probably cleaned hundreds of fish, but for me that was a dream job.”
He was a political science major, but Shroll was planning to pursue a career in law enforcement. Simultaneously, he applied to the Colorado State Patrol and to the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado at Denver. “Grad school answered me before the state patrol did,” Shroll said.
As part of his grad program, Shroll interned at the town of Norwood where he worked as the special projects and recreation department manager. When he completed his internship, the town hired him full time. He spent about a year in Norwood when he saw the advertisement for the Gypsum town manager opening.
“It was an entry opportunity,” Shroll said. “It really was meant to be a stop for to get my feet wet.”
When he started as Gypsum town manager back in 1993, his annual salary was just $27,500 and the town’s population was smaller than his high school. But Gypsum was poised for change and Shroll was given a unique opportunity to grow with the town.
Jack of all trades
When he started at the town, Shroll was not only the manager, he was also the finance officer and the town planner.
“I was not even balancing my own checking account then, let alone doing a town budget,” he said. But he learned the ins and outs of management on the job and the job just kept growing.
In his early years with Gypsum, the town’s sales tax collections totaled around $120,000 annually. In 2017, the town collected more than $5 million.
The first big change for Gypsum happened when the community teamed with Eagle River Water & Sanitation District to provide water and wastewater service to the Eagle County Regional Airport. The town eventually annexed the airport area, and the commercial and industrial land around it. In 1997, Columbine Market (now Ridley’s Market) opened and Gypsum had a solid sales tax provider. Around that same time, Cotton Ranch developed and Gypsum began an evolution that is still underway with the development of the Willowstone, Sky Legend, Buckhorn Valley, Chatfield Corners, Stratton Flats and other neighborhoods.
The old town hall, a small brick structure located along Eagle Street, was no longer big enough to handle the community’s growing municipal government, so Gypsum purchased the former Lundgren ranch property on Valley Road. The new town hall was built, the anchor of a complex that’s now the heart of Gypsum. But the biggest part of that complex was still to come.
Pride of Gypsum
In 2006, Gypsum formed a recreation committee to work with Western Eagle County Metropolitan Recreation District on a five-year plan.
“The first year the goal was to build a concrete basketball court and it ramped up after that,” Shroll said.
The year-five goal was to build a recreation center and the initial plan was to construct a roughly 4,000 square foot indoor gym.
“But when we opened it up to the public comment process, the people said ‘Think bigger,’” Shroll said.
Eventually the town developed a plan for a 56,000 square foot facility that included not only an indoor gym, but also a swimming pool, climbing wall, fitness area, walking track, child care facility, locker rooms and more. The price tag was $13.5 million and Gypsum residents approved a sales tax increase to pay for the facility.
Shroll admits he spent some sleepless nights, pouring over the numbers to assure himself that Gypsum could make the recreation center payments.
“We had it set up to where it was almost that the wind had to blow in the right direction for every thing to work. And then, within 30 days of deciding to move forward with the rec center, Costco announced it was building a store in Gypsum,” Shroll said.
Gypsum didn’t have to worry about making those recreation center loan payments any longer. In fact, the town paid off its 20-year debt in just nine years. At that point, Gypsum scaled back its sales tax rate to the previous level, fulfilling a promise officials made to the voters.
Both the recreation center and the early pay off are points of particular pride for the community as a whole and for Shroll.
“The rec center is a place of community, where all ages gather, and it is debt free,” he said.
While the recreation center is certainly a highlight of Shroll’s time in Gypsum, its just one of the important community accomplishments that happened under his watch.
From purchasing the Gypsum Creek Golf Course to building the new LEDE reservoir to expanding the annual Gypsum Daze program without increasing the $15 ticket price, he has crafted countless community deals. But as important as his official town manager duties have been, Shroll has also been an active member of the community he serves.
For 20 years, Shroll has spent his fall Friday nights under the lights as a high school football official. Spring finds him coaching the Eagle Valley High School track team.
He started coaching as a favor to a friend, who was an EVHS teacher. Shroll didn’t compete as a track athlete himself but he became a student of the sport.
“I love being around teenagers and I get a lot of energy from them,” he said. He has accompanied many Devils to the Colorado State Track Meet over the years and he believes his work with student athletes has given him great perspective on community.
“I know about the kids and families who are struggling from my experience with coaching,” he said.
Shroll and his wife Elizabeth are raising three Devils (or Devils-to-be) of their own. Daughters Taylor, 16, and Lauren, 14, already attend EVHS and Ellie, 12, is enrolled at Gypsum Creek High School.
Shroll noted that just as the Eagle and Gypsum communities blend together at EVHS, Eagle County has common interests.
“It’s all about community,” he said.
As he begins work at Eagle County, Shroll has high praise for the organization.
“With this group of county commissioners and department heads at the county, I feel like I have been drafted to play on a team with some all-star players,” he said. In particular, he applauded the county’s commitment to help address mental health issues in the community
“I hope to be part of an organization that can rally around those issues,” he said.
Tuesday, May 29, marks the beginning of his next chapter as Eagle County manager. Shroll’s final thoughts were to thank the countless people who he worked with during his nearly 25 years in Gypsum.
“It’s been a amazing ride. I have learned so many great lessons from so many great people,” he concluded.
At approximately 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Vail Fire and Emergency Services responded to a reported structure fire at 1977 Circle Drive in West Vail.