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Roaring Fork Schools board formally adopts ’20-22 calendars, approves bond refinancing

A new school year calendar for the next two years that will include an earlier end to classes in May was given final approval by the Roaring Fork Schools Board of Education Tuesday night.

The 2020-21 and 2021-22 calendars had been given a preliminary nod following a school board presentation in early March. The new calendars largely mirror the 2019-20 calendar, which currently has been interrupted by the mandated school facility closures in Colorado due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The biggest changes will be a longer summer break due to the school year ending in late May, a shorter spring break (5 school days instead of 7), shorter fall breaks and revised parent-teacher conference dates.

The 2020-21 school year will start a bit earlier than usual, on Aug. 17, allowing the first semester to end before winter break. That was an important element of the current-year calendar, and also helps to end the school year before June, according to a district news release issued after the Tuesday meeting. 

The changes were made based on data collected from over 2,000 students, staff, parents and community members that indicated the majority of respondents generally were satisfied with the current calendar but wanted these small changes, district officials said. 

A special calendar committee included teachers and administrators from schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt, as well as district and board representatives. The group spent more than 25 hours discussing guiding values and parameters for the calendar, creating a feedback survey, analyzing the data collected, and then developing the draft calendars. 

Priorities in setting the school-year calendar include supporting teachers and students to do their best teaching and learning, weighing economic considerations and supporting recreation/vacation/family time, according to RFSD Superintendent Rob Stein.

“Each of these values is important, which is why we try our best to honor all of them while also attending to feedback that we hear from our community,” he said.

Bond refinancing to save taxpayers $2.1 million

Also following through on a previously discussed matter, the school board on Tuesday approved the refinancing of approximately $27.7 million in bonds that were issued in 2011 and 2012.

The refinance takes advantage of lower interest rates and is projected to save school district taxpayers about $365,000 per year, or a total of about $2.1 million, in property taxes over the next six years. 

“This is a routine, straightforward transaction for the district,” Nathan Markham, director of finance for the district, said in a release. “We are always monitoring the market so we can take advantage of the lowest interest rates possible and save our taxpayers money.”

Business Briefs April 7, 2020

Dr. William Elsass joins Mind Springs Health as Chief Medical Officer

Mind Springs Health, the largest provider of mental health and addiction treatment in Western Colorado, has hired Dr. William Elsass as Chief Medical Officer.

Elsass most recently served as the behavioral medical director with UnitedHealth Group and brings a broad range of experience to Mind Springs Health, having worked in medical administration and as a psychiatrist in both private practice and in the United States Air Force, according to a pres release.

A graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara, Dr. Elsass attended medical school at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences and completed both his psychiatric internship and residency at the Wilford Hall Medical Center at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. Dr. Elsass also completed a fellowship in child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center in San Antonio and psychoanalytic training with the New England Academy of Psychoanalytic Studies in Portland, Maine. He received his Master of Business Administration from the Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

“We couldn’t be more excited to have Dr. Elsass join our leadership team,” said Sharon Raggio, president and CEO of Mind Springs Health. “His combination of experience as a practicing psychiatrist, along with his in-depth understanding of the business of healthcare, specifically mental health, is an incredible asset to our organization. We look forward to the guidance, training and support he will provide our staff going forward.”

Dr. Elsass resides in Summit County and will work from the Mind Springs Health Frisco office, while providing leadership support to all of Mind Springs Health’s 12 outpatient offices throughout Western Colorado, in addition to the West Springs Hospital in Grand Junction.

Dr. Elsass and his wife, Kelcey, have two children, Zach and Sophia. Zach attends Colorado University in Boulder, and Sophia is a high school junior. In his spare time, Dr. Elsass enjoys skiing in the winter and trail running and obstacle courses in the summer.

Carol Wolff joins YouthZone as new development director

Nonprofits require a steady hand at the helm, a strong supporting staff and the right person in place to lead development. YouthZone’s new Development Director Carol Wolff intends to make sure sustaining efforts are continued to financially support this regional nonprofit, according to a press release.

YouthZone’s provides a safety net of services to families and young people in crisis and youth in need of juvenile diversion. Community engagement from Aspen to Parachute have enabled this local nonprofit to offer effective, strength-based intervention to divert young people toward positive opportunities.

“YouthZone has an A-Team of staff that do amazing work improving life for youth and their families, and I am proud to introduce myself as part of that team,” Wolff said.

Her next few months will be an intense relationship-building endeavor. She looks forward to engaging with all the communities the organization serves and the number of people who already support their services, according to the release.

“Bringing Carol on board as our new development director put our staff and board of directors at ease about our long-term financial future. Everyone already considers her one of YouthZone’s family,” said Executive Director Lori Mueller.

Before coming to YouthZone, Wolff had a history of leading nonprofits to a higher level of stability and financial success. After college, she managed Colorado Honor Band’s summer camp in Grand Lake for 12 years. In 2005, she was hired as Rocky Mountain Repertory Theatre’s executive director. Wolff, RMRT’s board of directors and staff and the community raised the $5.2 million they needed to build a theater, and doors opened in 2011.

When she reconnected with the Colorado Honor Band as its executive director for the instrumental music education program in 2015, Wolff was able to rejoin her husband, JR Wolff, in New Castle. Her connections in the community led her to her new position at YouthZone.

CMC to offer free summer tuition for many students, as economic impacts of pandemic hit

Colorado Mountain College plans to use its $1.6 million in federal public health emergency stimulus dollars to give most students and unemployed workers a break this summer.

The CMC Board of Trustees, meeting via Webex teleconference on Monday, voted 7-0 to waive tuition, as well as books and other fees, for three categories of students during the summer 2020 term.

Several other initiatives were also put into place to try to help individuals and small businesses impacted by the economic downturn brought on by the global COVID-19 pandemic.

“Nearly every business across our mountain resort communities, including the region’s largest employers, have been shuttered,” CMC President and CEO Carrie Besnette Hauser said in a prepared statement issued following the trustees’ decision.

“The impacts of this upheaval will be detrimental to our local businesses and residents, without whom CMC would not exist,” she said. “So, we consider this a reinvestment into our local communities with the hope it will contribute to a speedier recovery.”

Summer courses will be offered online, continuing with the current arrangement to close out the spring semester.

Per the board’s decision Monday, tuition is to be waived for students taking credit, English as a Second Language and GED courses who qualify as in-district; in-state students who took credit courses in spring 2020; and displaced workers who live in the CMC district.

During the Monday meeting, Matt Gianneschi, chief operating officer for the college district, said college enrollment tends to increase during times of economic crisis when unemployment increases.

“Enrollment sometimes grows very dramatically, especially as many workers who don’t have the opportunity to return to the workforce right away look for opportunities to continue their educations,” he said.

In addition to the expected stimulus money, Gianneschi said the college can utilize savings brought on by the public health emergency to support the summer tuition waivers. That savings related to hiring freezes, canceled commencement ceremonies and reductions in energy usage.

In response to the COVID-19 outbreak in Colorado, CMC suspended in-person classes following spring break. Student coursework has been done online since March 23.

The college can also use revenues realized by the trustees’ recent decision to exercise a voter-authorized provision to recoup financial losses triggered by the state’s Gallagher Amendment, according to a press release issued by CMC after the Monday board decision.

A tuition break could also help employer-sponsored students, often out-of-state seasonal workers, who are taking courses in the hospitality or tourism trades, Gianneschi advised trustees during the Monday meeting.

“The hope there is to be able to provide some support during the recovery to keep some of those employees here in Colorado for when they are able to go back to work,” he said.

CMC Board President Patty Theobald said in the news release, “As educators and supporters of our local businesses, we know that education is a powerful economic driver that can help us today and tomorrow, working together to bounce back.”

The college district itself also expects to take a financial hit as a result of the economic downturn, but likely not until the 2021-22 academic/fiscal year. The college is in a good position to plan for that likelihood ahead of time, Gianneschi said.

jstroud@postindependent.com

Glenwood Springs temporarily suspends non-critical short-term lodging

A Glenwood Springs City Council discussion about whether or not vacation rentals should be allowed to operate during the COVID-19 crisis ended up having much broader implications.

Thursday night, at its regularly scheduled meeting, city council voted unanimously to temporarily suspend short-term lodging operations in Glenwood Springs.

“Hotels, and places of accommodation” were deemed critical businesses exempt from Gov. Jared Polis’ stay-at-home order.

Critical businesses must still comply with social distancing requirements at all times.

“From my perspective, legally, I can’t differentiate and I don’t have the facts to differentiate why a VRBO would be different than a hotel,” said Karl Hanlon, Glenwood Springs city attorney.

Altogether, the city has 99 vacation rentals on the grid – 88 short-term rentals and 11 accessory tourist rentals.

Short-term rental owners can rent out their entire property whereas those with an accessory tourist unit can only offer a single room.

Council’s decision to suspend short-term lodging operations not only applies to vacation rentals, but hotels, motels and other forms of accommodation for 30 days or less – with some exceptions.

According to a news release, lodging facilities can only stay open to accommodate critical business employees or those “performing a critical government function.”

Individuals may also book reservations for “purposes of obtaining a primary place of residence” the release stated.

“I think many of us have family members that may possibly be trying to separate themselves,” Glenwood resident Alesha Frederick said at Thursday’s meeting. “I think we do have to remember that self-regulation is very apparent here.”

Several vacation rentals in Glenwood Springs don’t list any availability until the end of April and multiple hotels and motels have already shut down voluntarily.

“I realize it’s an economic hit and I think we’ve got good citizens running our (vacation rentals),” Councilor Rick Voorhees said. “I believe in self-regulation and I’d like to leave it at that but there’s always one or two loopholes out there.”

While members of city council wanted to accommodate critical workers, they did not want to attract individuals traveling without a significant reason.

“We cannot afford to overload our infrastructure, it’s not safe,” Councilor Tony Hershey said. “It’s our job to keep the people of Glenwood Springs safe — not the people of Denver, not the people of New York, not the people of California or Arizona — the people of Glenwood Springs.”

Beginning April 6, lodging facilities can no longer accept any new bookings or reservations during the order which lasts through May 7.

Current reservations up to and including May 7 must also be canceled.

Additionally, current occupants of lodging facilities can stay until their reservation expires. 

mabennett@postindependent.com

Glenwood Springs City Council to look at possibly restricting vacation rentals during stay-at-home order

Despite a statewide stay-at-home order, some vacation rentals in Glenwood Springs remain available.

Thursday, at its regularly scheduled meeting, city council will look at possible restrictions for VRBOs (vacation rentals by owner) during the stay-at-home order.

“If people flee big cities and come here, I don’t think that’s a good idea until we know how bad this is going to get,” said Councilor Tony Hershey. “We can’t have people coming here and getting sick, or bringing COVID(-19) from other places.”

According to Public Information Officer Hannah Klausman, Glenwood Springs has 99 vacation rentals on the grid – 88 short-term rentals and 11 accessory tourist rentals.

Short-term rental owners can rent out an entire residence whereas those operating accessory tourist rentals can only offer a single room.

The city has not limited any vacation rental owner’s ability to rent out  property to guests at this time.

“All of this has to boil down to common sense,” Councilor Rick Voorhees said. “I hope the short term rental people haven’t been booking new reservations.”

Some vacation rentals in Glenwood Springs still show availability on sites like vrbo.com. whereas others will not accept any reservations until the end of April.

Many area hotels and motels have also elected to close their doors temporarily and voluntarily.

The state’s standing public health order identifies “Hotels, and places of accommodation” as a critical business exempt from Gov. Jared Polis’ stay-at-home order.

“Every exemption that we make just seems to allow another loophole for somebody,” Voorhees said. “At some point self-responsibility has to take over.”

At last week’s special city council meeting, councilors did not vote on a resolution that would have adopted the city’s own public health order.

Many of the restrictions in Glenwood’s public health order were already instituted in Gov. Jared Polis’ executive order declared shortly before council’s own special meeting.

However, the city’s own public health order would have placed stricter regulations on short-term lodging businesses including hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts and short-term rentals.

“We do not have enough ICU beds, we do not have enough ventilators to accommodate an influx of people from other areas,” Mayor Jonathan Godes said. “Any venue that contributes to, potentially, the transportation or transmission of infected people from one community to the next – we got to shut it down.”

Had it been approved as written last Thursday, the city’s public health order would have prevented short-term lodging businesses from taking new reservations from March 26 until an unspecified date in April.

The city’s order would have also forced short-term lodging units to vacate their premises with some exceptions; local workers, individuals experiencing symptoms of illness and anyone under a quarantine or isolation order from Garfield County would have been permitted to stay.

Whether or not council decides to adopt any of those additional measures remains to be seen at Thursday’s meeting.

“I just want to have the discussion,” Hershey said.

mabennett@postindependent.com

Eviction hearings on hold in 9th District, but some organizations call for full moratorium during public health emergency

A new month means the rent or mortgage payment comes due for most Garfield County and Roaring Fork Valley residents. 

But, as many people are experiencing reduced work hours or outright joblessness prompted by emergency business shutdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some are forced to make a decision between paying their landlord or the bank on time or keeping food on the table.

Janeth Niebla, who works with area families in need of assistance through the Carbondale-based Manaus organization, said she’s advising people to indeed prioritize food over rent, if it comes to that.

“Many people find themselves in a very unique situation, where the families affected most by this are either on front lines, in the grocery stores or health services, while others are living paycheck to paycheck, and now they don’t have that,” Niebla said in a video interview Tuesday along with other leaders of the Mountain Voices Project, a program of Manaus.

“The heart behind the work we do is thinking about the safety of the community, and wanting to support these families,” she said.

While some may be able to ride it out for a month, the situation grows more dire with each passing week that the economy is stalled, increasing the looming threat of an eviction notice or foreclosure action.

Pressure is being applied at multiple levels, from the Office of Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser to the Ninth Judicial District Bar Association and the Mountain Voices Project, requesting a full moratorium on eviction and foreclosure proceedings.  

Ninth District Chief Judge James Boyd this week amended a previous order regarding judicial proceedings during the public health emergency, in which eviction cases are addressed.

While new filings for both eviction actions and foreclosures will continue to be accepted, they will not be heard until at least June 1.

“This order does not change any existing settings, nor does it limit the authority of the judge presiding over a case of these types with existing settings to reschedule proceedings on the court’s own motion to a future date,” Boyd wrote in the March 30 amended order.

Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario also clarified that the order means no evictions, pending or otherwise, will be carried out until June 1, “unless there’s a health or safety hazard issue,” such as an unsafe premise. 

In fact, the judge’s order specifically does not preclude motions requesting an earlier action “necessary to prevent a substantial risk of imminent financial hardship or imminent risk to the health, safety or welfare of any individual or the community at large.”

Mountain Voices Project is an affiliate of the national community organizing group Industrial Areas Foundation, operating under Manaus.

Lead Mountain Voices Project organizer Alice Steindler said her group is still looking for some clarity, not just from Boyd but from other civic leaders, about the financial ramifications.

“What we’re hearing loud and clear right now is that folks who should be paying their rent in the next few days are not only very concerned about this month but are thinking ahead a month or two, and what that will bring,” Steindler said.

The attorney general and the governor have made “some good, thoughtful recommendations,” she said, but renters and landlords alike could use some assurance that they’re part of the equation.

“We’re not looking to put all of this responsibility on landlords,” Steindler said. “We understand that people being able to have that rental income is important, but we need some decisions sooner than later.”

Father Bert Chilson of St. Stephen Catholic Parish in Glenwood Springs also works with MVP as a community organizer. He said he has already heard of at least one instance where a property manager in Garfield County issued formal notice to tenants advising that rent will be expected to be paid on time this month.

“This is a time of great fear,” he said. “The stress is real for everyone, and for our immigrant population, it’s that stress level times 10.

“Right now, we have an order to stay at home, but if we start to see threats to remove people from their homes, how are we going to keep people safe?”

Garfield County Commission Chairman John Martin said the county has taken steps to provide financial assistance, including a $500,000 emergency fund for the Department of Human Services to help people with needs such as rental assistance.

But evictions are a judicial matter, he said.

“We don’t get involved with those proceedings, but we have asked the departments we oversee to use patience … and forego any actions until after this crisis,” Martin said.

The county has also worked to assemble a team to help get the local economy back on track once the crisis is passed. That will help point individuals and businesses to various resources, including the federal funds that are to be available, to help reboot the economy, he said.

Keeping people in their homes during this time is crucial, if the only reason they would be asked to leave is financial, say Steindler and others.

Carbondale Mayor Dan Richardson issued a statement Wednesday regarding the potential for evictions on behalf of the newly formed Carbondale Emergency Task Force.

“This is the time to communicate with your landlord or your mortgage lender if you anticipate problems paying your rent or mortgage,” Richardson said. “I advise property owners to talk directly to their lenders and mortgage companies to request relief.

“If you are a landlord or property manager with renters, I respectfully request compassion in this time of sudden uncertainty,” the mayor added. “I urge landlords to pass on any financial relief from lenders or government relief funds to their renters.”

Mountain Voices Project, in a letter to Judge Boyd last week, called for Garfield and Pitkin counties to join others, including Denver, Mesa, Weld and Boulder counties, in explicitly declaring a moratorium on eviction filings, not just proceedings.  

The Ninth Judicial and Pitkin County Bar Associations also penned a joint letter to Boyd seeking the same.

“We believe that a clear order from you will quell much anxiety that is circulating throughout our community — especially in light of the fact that the fact that … many have been forced out of their jobs because of public safety measures,” their letter reads. “… We urge you to recognize the imminent need to pause entry of residential eviction orders for failure to pay rent during this emergency … nobody should be without a home as Colorado grapples with this pandemic.”

Jennifer Wherry of Alpine Legal Services, which provides free and low-cost legal advice and representation on civil matters in the region, said her organization stands at the ready to help people who are facing eviction. 

“We are working on setting up a hotline in partnership with private bar associations to increase capacity for free legal aid during this time of substantial need,” Wherry said. Economic stress can also be the underlying cause of many of the domestic violence cases Alpine Legal Services deals with, she added.

“Whatever we can all do to help people feel safe in their homes right now will increase the health and safety of us all,” she said.

jstroud@postindependent.com

Rental and financial relief resources for renters, homeowners and businesses

Financial assistance for individuals, including rent assistance, is being provided through the following organizations:

Legal advice can be sought through the following local organization:

All businesses, including non-profit organizations, and self-employed individuals are encouraged to explore financial assistance options with the following organizations:

  • Colorado Department of Labor and Employment: For employees, including the self-employed, to file unemployment claims. www.colorado.gov/pacific/cdle/unemployment
  • Carbondale Chamber of Commerce: for local financial resources, including volunteer financial experts available to offer consulting services free of charge: www.carbondale.com
  • The Colorado Small Business Development Center Network: www.coloradosbdc.org
  • The U.S. Small Business Administration: www.sba.gov
  • Industry trade associations may be able to help you access specific financial resources and advocacy, for instance the Colorado Restaurant Association: www.corestaurant.org

Source: Carbondale Emergency Task Force

Bankers’ Hours column: Financial world getting T-boned in Siberia

In my last column, I included a disclaimer that the opinions weren’t a prediction of doom and recession.

This also is not a prediction. It’s an observation: We’re currently in the midst of a collapse of the planet’s economic infrastructure. It will be repaired, but absolutely no one know when, how, or how much it will cost in time, treasure or torment.

We’re emerging from Aunt Em’s farmhouse to realize we’re not in Kansas anymore.

Envision driving across Siberia, enjoying the scenery, when suddenly you’re T-boned at the only intersection in 500 square miles. You’re conscious, you know the injuries are serious. But, blessedly, you don’t yet have an inkling of the hospital stay, the surgeries and rehab to come. However, it’s beginning to dawn on you that there’s surely nobody in that part of Siberia who knows how to put you back together. Welcome to the world economy, post pandemic.

Every business, industry, service, association, organization and nonprofit will be affected, and they’ll all need a lot of help and capital from their national governments. Around the world the line to apply for subsidies, loans and concessions will be longer than at the Mile High ticket office before a Broncos home playoff game.

When I was a kid, I was a fan of science fiction. We’re living in a sci-fi movie right now, and it’ll be a great story for Hollywood, whenever it re-opens after the plague. Right now, anybody can make up a storyline and have a chance of being right, so, here are some thoughts.

The recovery will likely involve a 1930s New Deal on steroids. No matter what happens in the next 30, 60, 120 days, never, in recorded history, has so much of the world’s population been out of work. Banking, whose business is the movement of money, and whose business model is making money on that movement, will be smack in the middle of this process. And banking itself will need governmental help to function.

The timing belt’s broken, the engine’s seized up: Billions are unable to make payments on what they’ve borrowed, from Fortune 500 companies down to the 19-year-old college kid with his first credit card, courtesy Mom and Dad. If all that money doesn’t start moving, nobody’s going to start getting paid again, ever.

And you don’t jump start a recovery like this. A few government bailout loans won’t make the engine whir on all cylinders. It’ll take time, maybe a lot of it. You can’t jump out of bed and walk on the leg with a compound fracture sustained in your Siberian Subaru crash.

The complexities abound: There are businesses and industries that were on shaky ground before the virus jumped from bats to bystanders in an open air market. For example, corporate debt has skyrocketed over the last few years to 19 trillion, much of it risky. In fact, about 1.2 trillion is actually outstanding to sub-prime business borrowers whose loans have been packaged into junk bonds; a very large portion of this debt is very likely not to get repaid at all.

And then there are the sub-prime mortgage lenders who have resurrected themselves, just like a slasher flick serial killer at just the wrong time. Homeowners are taking on big debt at the very moment that the canoe goes over the waterfall.

National governments were slow to act when the virus hit. Virtually all started off in the first two stops in the five stages of grief: denial and anger. The fifth stage, acceptance, will be the starting point for competent leadership to take over, whether it comes from pre-pandemic leaders, or those who come off the bench.

In closing, one irresistible comment:

A few years ago, I wrote a column about the stability of banking in the U.S. I cited people who bury cash, in the event that, if banks fail, or are closed, and money isn’t available, they’ll have emergency currency. I pointed out that, if the banks are closed, that means our government has fallen, so it would have been better to bury toilet paper, because it would be more effective than greenbacks would be for the only thing that they could be used for.

Well, banks are still handing out money, and our government is certainly operating, but it’s a good bet that a lot of those folks who dug a hole for money wish they’d buried the new currency: toilet paper.

Enjoy the movie, folks. After all, you’re starring in it.

Pat Dalrymple is a western Colorado native and has spent more than 50 years in mortgage lending and banking in the Roaring Fork Valley. He’ll be happy to answer your questions or hear your comments. His e-mail is pdalrymple59@gmail.com.

How to adjust to working from home

It’s the new (temporary) normal — more people than ever are working from home.

Those who are new to putting on their power suit and going to work in the laundry room might benefit from the experience of those who have been doing so for years.

One of the first hurdles is creating space to work. Daniel Adams, product manager for software company e-Courier, has worked from his New Castle home for more than 10 years. He recommends carving out whatever space you can and calling it an office. “Have a set work space. … Some people are limited to their kitchen table during these times, so just make sure to have a dining and working space on the table,” he said.

Doug Winter of Glenwood Springs has been working at home for about four years doing environmental remediation work for an engineering consulting company. He said ergonomics are very important, and it’s worthwhile getting everything set up well before getting down to business.

Even with space to work, it might be difficult to stay motivated when no one is peering over your shoulder. “We all have days that we struggle to work no matter what we do. I like lists on those days so I make sure to have some focus on what I need to do next,” Adams said.

“I have to account for my time in 15-minute increments to be honest about how much I get paid, and getting a paycheck is pretty good motivation,” Winter said. Beyond that, “I look forward to my personal time. I’m motivated to be efficient so I can enjoy my free time.”

Most people new to working from home will have to learn to minimize or at least cope with distractions, and there may be some family training involved. Winter said he and his wife have a good understanding. “We don’t interrupt each other when we’re on the phone, we work in separate offices in the house, and when the door is closed it’s a good indication that you’re not available.”

“A good set of headphones and tunes can keep a lot of the outside world outside,” Adams said.

Winter added, “Pets can be distracting, which is another reason having an office door is helpful.”

Working at home isn’t the end of social interaction. Adams said, “Being remote doesn’t mean that you don’t have a personal relationship with the people you work with. If your office is new make sure you have a virtual water cooler and touch base with each other. Slack, Skype or any of the messaging tools offer a great way to just say, ‘Hello, how are you,’ to your office mates even if they are not physically close.”

Face-to-face interactions, as so many are doing lately with Zoom, provide both social and professional feedback. “Many virtual companies make sure that people turn their cameras on during meetings so everyone gets the non-verbal communications that occur as well,” Adams said.

Winter recommends simply making a phone call instead of sending an email. “It gives you the chance to chat,” he said.

It’s also valuable to keep work time separate from home time and to maintain a routine. “Have working hours — clock in at 8, clock out at 5, and try to limit the other things you’re doing during that time. Have office hours and other times when you’re not working,” Winter said.

And try not to work too much, either. “It’s easy to get excited and work all hours and every day. If I’m working on a weekend I try to make sure I ask myself if it’s really something that needs done or if it can wait until Monday,” Adams said.

One thing that’s similar to working in an office is setting a break schedule to stay fresh and getting some exercise throughout the day, Adams said. Winter recommends a change of scenery every so often. “I take lunch away from my computer and stare at the clouds for half an hour.”

The current work-at-home trend could be good for businesses. Both Winter and Adams said they are more productive working from home. “On personal tasks I seem to be able to focus more. Many times in an office there is lots of waiting. Little things like walking to the conference room and being a couple of minutes early to each meeting just add up over the course of a day,” Adams said.

Working from home offers opportunities for increased productivity in other ways as well. With members of Integrated Mountain Group working from home when possible, Bob Johnson, founder and executive vice president of Integrated Mountain Management, said, “People are saying they are doing well multitasking by completing office work and keeping up on laundry all in the same day.”

Adams has had a similar experience. “After a couple of years working at home my wife started the phrase ‘laundry is the new coffee break’ because she would use that as her excuse to get up and move every couple of hours,” he said.

Winter, on the other hand, recommended not doing other chores during the day in order to stay focused on the work at hand.

Due to COVID-19 some workers are forced to stay at home at a time when they need to be home anyway. “A big benefit in many cases is companies will also let you manage your schedule with more flexibility when you are remote. Right now that’s important because our child care closed, and now my wife and I share the need to get our day jobs done and be parents,” Adams said.

So change out of your PJs, get a cuppa Joe and think of all the time and money you’re saving by not commuting.

cwertheim@postindependent.com

Some area golf courses opening this week, but employing social-distancing precautions

Several Garfield County golf courses are making the call to proceed with their planned season openings, but with precautions in place to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Golf courses were not specifically listed among “non-essential” businesses that were required to close under the most recent public health orders from the state of Colorado.

And, given the allowance for people to recreate outdoors as long as they practice social-distancing protocols, golf courses that have already opened for the season have proven popular destinations.

“It was kind of a gray area, is how I would describe it,” acknowledged Zac Sutherland, operations section chief for the Garfield County COVID-19 command staff.

Initially, when Gov. Jared Polis issued the state’s stay-at-home order on March 25, an AP report indicated golf courses, along with outdoor basketball courts and tennis courts, would fall under the mandatory closures.

But the order itself didn’t specifically mention those facilities, leaving it up to local jurisdictions to make that determination.

Some municipalities have since closed playgrounds, along with public basketball courts, tennis courts and other outdoor sports facilities. Others, including the city of Denver, have closed golf courses.

Since most golf courses are private entities, operators have been working with local public health officials to enact safety protocols if they decide to remain open.     

“What we were left to do is come up with a way to say golf courses can open, but they need to maintain those safe distance guidelines and take other precautions (to protect public health),” Sutherland said. “Golf courses, just the way they are laid out, lends itself to being able to operate safely.”

A guiding document for all golf courses to follow is expected out this week, he said.

In the meantime, Rifle Creek Golf Course has led the way among area courses in announcing that it would stay open. The decision came after taking a couple of days to evaluate the situation and put some of those measures in place, according to a statement posted on the golf course’s website.

“We have decided to stay open and will be taking the utmost precautions within our operations to provide the safest environment possible for people who still wish to play golf,” according to the statement. “We encourage our customers to do their part to keep everyone safe by following the mandated social distancing requirements.”

Among the precautions:

  • The pro shop and dining room will be closed
  • Congregating on the deck is not allowed
  • Walking access only, no golf carts or pull carts
  • Restrooms in the clubhouse are available, and are routinely cleaned and sanitized
  • On-course restrooms and water drinking stations are closed
  • Flagsticks must be left in the cup (cups are raised to avoid contact)
  • All bunker rakes have been removed
  • Driving range remains closed.

The Glenwood Springs Golf Club is tailoring its guidelines after Rifle, in hopes of opening on Wednesday, General Manager Jerry Butler said on Monday.

The course last week put out a call to its patrons to help provide bleach and other cleaning materials to make sure they can sterilize the clubhouse premises. Much of what Rifle is doing will also be the standard mode of operation at Glenwood, with a few modifications that were still being worked out on Monday.

“Hopefully, all will be good and we can resume normal operations soon,” Butler said in an email.

River Valley Ranch in Carbondale has closed after being open for limited play last week, and is asking people to stay off the course until further notice.

“While some golf courses have remained open, we are temporarily closing as we believe it is our civic duty to do so during this time,” RVR operators announced in a Facebook message over the weekend. “Please help us by not entering course property. This includes the driving range, cart paths and fairways.”

Ironbridge Golf Course south of Glenwood Springs plans to open for member play only on Wednesday, and is currently planning to open for public play by April 11, when the governor’s stay-at-home order is currently scheduled to end. 

“We also have been tracking the best practices for golf courses, and will be employing those,” Ironbridge Assistant General Manager Cal Kendrick said on Monday.

The pro shop are closed, and tee time check will be done over the phone or through a window, he said.  

“We are carrying out the social distancing requirements, including a single person to a cart, no touching flag sticks and no raking of bunkers,” Kendrick said.

As many courses are doing, the cups are pulled up so the ball just hits the edge instead of dropping into the hole.

Hand sanitizing and washing stations with soap and paper towel dispensers are also set up, he said. 

A beverage and snack cart will be operating on the course, but will also be following protocols, Kendrick said.

Elsewhere, Battlement Mesa Golf Club remains closed until April 11 and the private Aspen Glen Club allows members-only play. Lakota Canyon Golf Club in New Castle did not have information posted on its website, and could not be reached for comment.

jstroud@postindependent.com

Glenwood professional service providers adapting to new work-from-home requirements

Glenwood Springs-area professional service providers were just two days into adapting workplace environments to cut in-office staff by half when the “stay-at-home” order came from the state health officials last week.

Delivering client services through it all has been a challenge, as businesses such as real estate agencies, business accounting and payroll, and law firms have been adjusting day-to-day with the ever-changing state public health orders to try to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

The latest directive, issued late in the day March 25, asked “non-essential” businesses — including many professional services not related to banking and finance — to close physical workplaces and have employees work from home as much as possible.

The timing couldn’t have been worse for accountants and tax preparers, who were in the middle of tax season when the pandemic hit Colorado and the notion of “social distancing” was introduced as a way to control it.

Federal and state income tax filing deadlines have been extended until July 15 — instead of the usual April 15 deadline. 

Still, clients have a lot of questions, and perhaps even more so with the financial uncertainty, said Chris West, CEO of Dalby, Wendland and Co. CPAs, which has offices in Glenwood Springs, Rifle and Aspen.

The firm normally has 28 employees working out of its Glenwood office, and 40 at the main offices in Grand Junction. Staff is now working at home, but maintaining client contacts remotely, he said.

“We do still have some critical functions that have to be done in-office, so we have some people in and out,” West said, noting that accounting and payroll services are considered “critical” services under the state order.

“Everyone has the ability to work from home, and we have policies for any circumstances where someone would need to be in the office,” he said. “We did have a little bit of foresight before the latest government announcements, and had a plan.” 

It did mean getting the technology in place for people to communicate with clients and coworkers from home. Again, much of that was already in the works as the professional service industry is always improving technology, he said.

“The main thing we want to do is make sure our business is in a position to be able to help clients, many of whom are in bad need of some advice right now,” West said.

Integrated Mountain Properties, which provides real estate sales and property management services out of its downtown Glenwood Springs office, has made similar adjustments.

Under normal circumstances, there can be between 15-20 people in and out of the office in a day.

Given the nature of the real estate business, though, it’s a rather mobile work environment, and a lot of the staff is able to work from home even in normal times, Bob Johnson, founder and executive vice president for Integrated, said.

Even before the new orders came down from the state, “We encouraged the team to work remotely whenever possible,” he said.

On the property and homeowner association management side, “We created remote meeting guidelines that have been effective and supported by the communities we manage.”

At the Balcomb and Green Law Offices in Glenwood Springs, where there are usually 16 in-office staff, plans were made before last week to move to a complete remote office environment if need be, law firm partner Chris Geiger said.

“Like most businesses, we have been closely monitoring the federal and state guidelines and making sure we are taking the proper steps for the safety of our clients and employees,” he said. “We’ve also been keeping an eye out for any new developments in the law, and how that might affect our clients in how they operate their businesses.

“We are somewhat fortunate in that we work in an information business, and we regularly communicate electronically with clients and among staff, so our ability to represent clients is not impaired,” Geiger added.

jstroud@postindependent.com