Forest Service looks to trim number of offices |

Forest Service looks to trim number of offices

Heather McgregorGSPI Managing Editor

Office consolidation is in store for the far-flung bureaucracy that manages the 2.3-million-acre White River National Forest, says forest supervisor Martha Ketelle.Aging buildings, a high cost of living in the forest’s resort towns and a chance to streamline operations are driving a study of the forest’s various in-town facilities.In Glenwood Springs, where the forest supervisor’s office occupies the classic former post office building at 900 Grand Ave., the consolidation move could involve other federal agencies.Forest Service spokeswoman Sue Froeschle said the agency has no plans to abandon its downtown building. In fact, crews are at work on a $300,000 remodeling project at the building’s southwest corner. The project will create a new, wheelchair-accessible entry. Inside, crews will convert offices that have been occupied by the forest supervisor and deputy supervisor and a portion of the central hallway into an expanded visitor information center.The Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association is expected to install a computerized information kiosk in the new center as well, similar to the kiosk installed earlier this year in Alpine Bank’s downtown branch at 211 8th St.For security reasons, the remainder of the building will be locked, and accessible to the public only by permission.”We’ll buzz you in if you have an appointment,” Froeschle said.Forest Service officials have just begun to consider other changes for facilities in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale, Aspen, Meeker, Eagle and Minturn.”In 2003 we will look for optimal locations from which to manage the White River National Forest during the next 30 years,” Ketelle said.Pivotal to those decisions is whether the agency will sell its Aspen Ranger District property at 806 W. Hallam, just before the S-curves at the entrance to Aspen. Proceeds from a sale would finance many of the changes made elsewhere, Froeschle said.And any changes in use or sale of agency property will require federal legislation, she said.Those changes could include:-Merge the Aspen and and Sopris ranger district offices, now in Aspen and Carbondale, at the El Jebel Tree Farm.-Consolidate the Blanco Ranger District office in Meeker with the BLM office just west of town.-Merge the Holy Cross and Eagle ranger district offices, now in Minturn and Eagle, at an unspecified location. The agency would still “maintain a presence” in both communities, Froeschle said.”The Forest Service is committed to the communities we serve and are presently located in, but in the future it may not be with offices in their present locations or be a full-service office,” Ketelle said.Employee housing could also be developed as part of the project, she said. The White River National Forest employs 190 permanent and up to 160 seasonal workers in Summit, Eagle, Garfield, Pitkin and Rio Blanco counties.In Glenwood Springs, the changes could be complicated.The Forest Service owns three properties: the downtown office building, a shop and garage on School Street, and a parking and storage lot near the Glenwood Springs Municipal Airport. In addition, it leases office space in the Executive Plaza on Grand Avenue.Other federal agencies with offices in Glenwood Springs will be asked to participate in the consolidation study. They are the Bureau of Land Management, Internal Revenue Service, Social Security, FBI, Immigration and Naturalization Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service.”We’re the only ones that aren’t leasing space,” said Froeschle of the Forest Service.Office space could be built on Forest Service or BLM land, she said, or an additional office building and parking structure could be built in the parking lot behind, or east of, the supervisor’s building, at 9th and Cooper.”Adding on could be the best situation,” Froeschle said.Although the idea has been floated in meetings with city officials, it is just one of the possibilities that will be considered.”We are trying to look 30 years out,” Froeschle said. “What will our workforce be like then, compared to now? It’s a hard one to grasp. Had we done this study 30 years, for example, no one would have anticipated e-mail.”Ketelle is gathering input from forest staff and local officials, and noted that the study is in its very early stages.Any plan devised for changes in White River National Forest offices or properties would have to be approved by Forest Service officials in Denver and Washington, D.C., and be enabled by legislation that must be passed by Congress and approved by the president.

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