SMPA lot

An architectural rendering depicts the new building currently under construction on the SMPA lot. (Photo courtesy of Ah Haa School for the Arts)

The SMPA Lot Project officially broke ground in April to little fanfare. The commencements of large, earth-moving undertakings typically don’t receive much more than a public notice in the local paper, and in this case, the biggest annoyance to the handful of locals still in the box canyon during the off-season was the road closures. Breaking ground in April had been part of the town’s plan: to start construction of this new, multi-use facility during the slower time of the year. 

In contrast to the town’s plan to minimize the effects of construction, the Ah Haa School for the Arts — which will move its headquarters into the building when it officially opens in 2020 — has been yearning to celebrate all the digging and bulldozing. Accordingly, the nonprofit will hold a Groundbreaking Party tonight (June 14) from 4-7 p.m. at the Transfer Warehouse, located catty-corner to the SMPA project on the northeast corner of Fir Street and Pacific Avenue. Telluride Arts will host the free event. Telluride, Marble and Ska breweries will offer free libations; La Cocina de Luz and Baked In Telluride will provide the food (also complimentary). The Gern Blenston Band is set to play, too. 

Music, food and booze are almost always a jovial mixture, and Ah Haa wanted to do it right. Also, “We wanted to do it right next to the construction project so people can understand it,” said Kathleen Cole, Ah Haa School special events and marketing director. “We’re going to have our plans out, because it is a multi-use facility.”

Cole admits it’s a “belated” groundbreaking party, but the organization wanted to make sure everyone returned safely from their off-season excursions before organizing such a shindig. 

“It’s a community event,” she said. “We really want to see as many people out there as we can.”  

The new Ah Haa HQ will be approximately 10,000 square feet — an additional 3,000 square feet in classroom space more than is available at its current digs, at the former train depot on 300 S. Townsend St.

In a previous interview with the Telluride Daily Planet, Judy Kohin, the Ah Haa School’s executive director, said the school had “outgrown” its current quarters.

The new locale is “going to be an amazing facility for the Ah Haa School,” she said.

In addition to hosting a party Thursday night, the school’s long-term plans include focusing on a capital campaign to cover the $9 million worth of costs for the new building. The sale of the depot will net $5 million, according to the school’s numbers, leaving an additional $4 million to be raised. Cole explained that over half of the $4 million has been collected through various donors. 

The SMPA project also will add 70 pay-for-park spaces and 10 affordable-housing units (approximately 10,000 square feet in total), according to town officials. 

Ah Haa’s relocation will make it neighbors with Telluride Arts and the Wilkinson Public Library, both of which are located along Pacific Avenue. The result will be a new creative mecca in Telluride, according to Cole. 

“We’re calling it the Golden Triangle, or Cultural Triangle, or Cultural Core,” she said. “We’re working on our messaging right now.” 

Whatever it’s dubbed, the trifecta will add up to “infinite possibilities,” according to promotional materials. The Transfer Warehouse party is being held at the future home of Telluride Arts, a separate project that has been in the works since 2016, when Telluride Town Council approved the application for the warehouse plans.  

“We want people to learn about the (SMPA) project, and the differences between ours and the Telluride Arts project,” Cole said. 

Telluride Mayor Sean Murphy will speak at the groundbreaking party around 5:30 p.m., she added.

It will be a day for cultural celebration in the Golden Triangle: Earlier on Thursday, the library will hold its annual Patron Appreciation Party on the outdoor patio, from noon to 2 p.m.