White River Forest HQ blessed, ready | PostIndependent.com

White River Forest HQ blessed, ready

The smell of burnt sweetgrass may still linger in the White River National Forest headquarters building when it reopens to the public on March 23.

It will probably be long gone by the open house in early summer, but with luck, the blessing Kenny Frost, sundance chief for the Southern Ute Nation, bestowed on the building Thursday will be remembered.

Respect for the land. Honoring our heritage.

“This was the heart of Ute country long ago,” Frost said. “In Native American belief, whenever you have a new building or a remodel, you want to have a blessing. It offers a positive energy.”

“This was the heart of Ute country long ago. In Native American belief, whenever you have a new building or a remodel, you want to have a blessing. It offers a positive energy.”Kenny Frostsundance chief for the Southern Ute Nation

For public information office Bill Kight, the ceremony was an essential part of the renovation.

“It is important for this forest to recognize the indigenous people who lived here, to honor them, and to involve them in the management of the forest,” he said.

Built in 1917, the 17,000-square-foot former post office saw several additions before it passed into the hands of the Forest Service in the 1960s.

By 2009, it was clear that some upgrades were needed. The Forest Service applied for federal money earmarked for facilities, and in July 2013, the renovation began.

White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams emphasized that the project’s $1.9 million price tag didn’t compete with other projects.

“We either spend it on facilities or we give it back,” he said.

“It’s not gold-plated, but we wanted to do it right while we had the money,” he added. “I think it’s a good investment of our dollars.”

In addition to the removal of 10,000 square feet of asbestos ceiling tiles, improvements include a new efficient heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, new, more airtight window casings, and a 7.5 kilowatt solar array.

“Sustainability is written into our mission statement, so we really had a strong commitment for this to be a sustainable project,” said project manager Heather Boaz.

It’s finished off with low-VOC paint, recycled materials, public Wi-Fi, and plenty of the original woodwork.

“Trying to weigh modern with historic has been a fun process,” Boaz said. “Rather than trying to match the old style, we’re letting it contrast with the modern so that the historic really pops and tells its story.”

The exact energy benefits will be hard to ascertain, because the remodel comes with increased occupancy. The building will house around 55 employees, including the 35 who worked there before and 20 who currently occupy an office in West Glenwood.

Consolidating facilities will save around $156,000 in annual lease costs.

“That goes to work on the ground — boots hitting the dirt,” Boaz said.

Most of all, it spells the end of nearly two years of Forest Service personnel working from home or out of overcrowded ranger stations.

“It will be really nice to be back here,” Kight said.

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