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Mountain News: New homes for teachers, but with very low-carbon footprint

Fourteen houses being built on the hillside above Basalt High School will be reserved for teachers



BASALT, Colo.—Thirteen-year-old Isabelle "Izzy" Walker was happy to tell several dozen sun-baked listeners gathered outside her new home last Saturday morning about just how her world had turned around.

Her parents had split up and her mother, a pre-school teacher, told her they were going to move into a new house. It was not a happy thought. "I thought it was the end of my life," she said.

That was then. "Now I can see it's the beginning of my life," she said.

The house is among 27 being built in Basalt Vista, an affordable-housing project in Basalt, located 29 kilometres down-valley from Aspen and Snowmass. The developer is Habitat for Humanity, working in a partnership with the Roaring Fork School District and many others, on land above Basalt High School provided by the school district.

The school district had 61 rental units, but 14 houses being built on the hillside above Basalt High School will be available for purchase by teachers, other school district employees at well below market costs. The school district serving the Basalt-El Jebel-Glenwood Springs area had previously obtained housing for rent to employees. With this, the employees can buy into Basalt Vista with the small two-bedroom units starting at US$250,000 and four-bedroom units at US$350,000, each discounted US$25,000 if the purchasers had sweat equity.

Another 13 units will be reserved for employees in Pitkin County, who will be determined on a lottery basis. The county waived US$3 million in road and other infrastructure fees.

Market prices for comparable units would be northward of US$700,000, according to Scott Gilbert, president of Habitat for the Roaring Fork Valley, the developer of the projects.

At the dedication, Paul Freeman, a high-school principal, pointed out that housing in Basalt costs US $15,000 more than even in a Denver suburb, and the school district pays US $15,000 less. This, he said, will help attract and retain good teachers.

But Basalt Vista may be even more important as an effort in what is called beneficial electrification. No natural gas pipelines were laid into the subdivision. The homes and the hot water the residents use will be heated entirely by air-source heat pumps powered by electricity.

Holy Cross Energy, the electricity provider, has taken concrete steps to dramatically reduce the carbon intensity of its electricity during the coming decade. It's now at 39 per cent renewables but last year adopted a goal of 70 per cent by 2030. However, directors of the electrical co-operative think they can exceed that goal far sooner and set even a higher decarbonization goal.

The houses at Basalt Vista will still be connected to the electrical grid, but the duplexes and triplexes will produce as much energy in a year as they consume. That will make them net-zero, all-electric units. Utility bills for the homes are expected to be 85 per cent less than houses of comparable size. All homes are well insulated, to minimize heating and cooling needs.

The first four units have lithium-ion batteries that can store electricity generated during the day by rooftop solar panels for use at night. But the storage could also be useful if electrical transmission from outside sources gets disrupted. Last summer, on a fire that began July 3, it very nearly was. Across the valley from Basalt Vista, charred trees from the Lake Christine fire were visible above the town. The fire severed three of the four transmission lines that delivered electricity to Basalt but also Snowmass and portions of Aspen.

The project enjoyed US $550,000 in grants to enable all 27 units to be net-zero.

There was also much sweat equity. Ryan Mahoney, the town manager in Basalt, recalled a sunny winter day with not too much wind on the roof. Thousands of volunteer hours were invested. Among those lending a hand were the new homeowners and, in the case of young Izzy, their children.

"Any time I look at my home, I am going to see all the love and care that was put into building it," said the golden-locked girl.

Crusaders gone and the Wolverines in at Canmore

CANMORE, Alta.—Teams from Canmore College High School have become the Wolverines, replacing the old mascot, the Crusaders.

Chris Rogers, the principal, earlier this year suggested that Crusaders needed to be replaced because of connotations of the name during the medieval period. The mascot included a shield.

He told the Rocky Mountain Outlook that a student group charged with evaluating the replacement names overwhelmingly chose the Wolverines over the other candidates, the Cyclones and the Coyotes.