Vail Nature Center building, which dates to the 1940s, may be beyond repair
The 1940s-vintage building that houses the Vail Nature Center has a number of problems. Here are the biggest:
• The roof needs to be replaced.
• The second floor isn’t usable until the roof is fixed.
• There’s a lot of mold.
• There are also high levels of radon gas.
VAIL — The Vail Nature Center is going to look different this season. It may look different from now on.
During the afternoon meeting on Tuesday, April 17, the Vail Town Council agreed to spend roughly $55,000 on a yurt, a concrete pad and utilities at the site. The yurt, manufactured by a company in Montrose, would be set up and torn down before each nature center summer season.
Town officials believe the yurt could be needed from between one and three seasons. After that, Walking Mountains Science Center will buy the yurt for use at its campus up Sweetwater Road.
Walking Mountains runs programs and has seasonal offices at the nature center building.
The yurt will be used in place of a 1940s-vintage building. That building has housed exhibits, classes and offices for a number of years. But a survey of the site in September 2017 revealed several problems with the building.
Following a meeting on Tuesday, March 20, town project manager Todd Oppenheimer and Vail Recreation District Executive Director Mike Ortiz both said the building could probably be repaired enough to open this summer. The town owns the property, but the recreation district manages Ford Park.
Bad News Keeps Coming
Despite that initial optimism, bad news about the building just kept coming.
The extent of those problems is serious enough to keep the building closed to staff and the public, and those problems are still being evaluated. In fact, Oppenheimer had fresh information Tuesday afternoon — this time from an industrial hygienist.
That report showed that initial fears about mold may have been a bit overblown. Mold spores in the building are higher than acceptable levels. But, Oppenheimer said, much of that mold may be coming from three exhibits in the building: an old sign, a beaver dam exhibit and a composting exhibit. A composting toilet in the building is also the source of some mold spores.
Those exhibits will be removed and the building will be aired out and cleaned to determine if the mold is limited to those exhibits.
Oppenheimer said radon might be harder to handle, since there isn’t much space to ventilate under the building.
Given the problems, and potential costs, council members wondered if the building could ever be repaired enough to open again.
“Are we throwing money and time at something we can’t fix?” Mayor Dave Chapin asked. “Maybe we should cut our losses.”
The state of the building could clear the way for significant upgrades at the nature center.
The survey conducted last year by the Hopkins Architecture Team included asking center users what they’d like to see at the facility. Upgrades could include running water to the facility and upgrading accessibility for the disabled.
Town Manager Greg Clifton told the council while no more money will be put into repairs at the old building, it won’t be ignored.
Council member Kim Langmaid, a founder of Walking Mountains and a life-long town resident, said perhaps the old building could be used for storage.
With the yurt on order, the fate of the old building will be settled at a later date.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
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