The Western Slope College Fair, shown here in 2013, enables students from Western Colorado to meet admissions officers from some 250 colleges and universities.
The Western Slope College Fair, shown here in 2013, enables students from Western Colorado to meet admissions officers from some 250 colleges and universities. Credit: Michele Cardamone

The Western Slope College Fair will have a new venue for 2015, owing to the equivalent of a summer flash flood in the Aspen High School gymnasium.

The gym typically serves as the main hall for the annual college fair, which attracts some 250 college admissions officers and nearly 3,000 students and parents from western Colorado. But in late July, a student at the Aspen Basketball Academy accidentally hit a sprinkler with a basketball, triggering a deluge that destroyed the gym floor and subfloor.

The gym is now closed for repairs, and without it the college fair, set for Oct. 4, cannot fit indoors. So organizers decided to relocate the event to the Aspen Middle School parking lot beneath the shelter of a giant, circus-like tent.

“This will be the greatest show on Earth,” said college counselor Kathy Klug, using the famed Ringling Bros. slogan. “We’ll have all the colleges in one space.”

In past years, Klug said, the fair was divided among several of the large spaces at the high school. The gym accommodated roughly 160 of the college representatives, another 40 set up their booths in the Skier Dome, and another 40 to 50 were in the commons. The switch to the parking lot was a stopgap solution, but Klug sees it as a positive.

“This really becomes seamless, even though we had to scurry when we realized things would have to be different,” she said. “I think it gives the kids the visual of actually seeing the endless possibilities. There’s a college out there for everyone who wants one.”

Now in its 11th year, the fair features everything from vocational and technical schools to community colleges and four-year universities. Small, liberal-arts colleges from the East are represented as well as big state universities. About 150 volunteers will be on hand to help and guide attendees. There also are workshops designed to help students find the right schools, craft the best possible essays or obtain financial aid.

The fair has always posed a parking challenge, and placing an 80-by-220-foot tent in the middle school parking lot won’t help the parking squeeze. But Klug said the Aspen Police Department, the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office and the Aspen Parking Department have all pitched in to figure things out. Attendees will be carried on buses and shuttle vans from two remote locations. Those coming from Aspen will be asked to park at the Aspen Music Festival lot off Gillespie Street, and traffic coming from downvalley will be directed to Buttermilk Ski Area.

Meanwhile, of course, the high school is making do without a gymnasium.

“It hasn’t really affected us yet,” said Assistant Principal John Bangley. “The lucky thing is we have a secondary gym.”

Volleyball and physical education classes are taking place in the Skier Dome, Bangley said. When basketball kicks in during winter, there may be a short-term crunch, but the gym should be finished around the end of October.

“Hopefully we’ll have a nice, new, pristine gym floor at some point,” he said, adding that insurance should pay the bulk of the repair cost.

Aspen Journalism and The Aspen Times are collaborating on education coverage. The Times published this story on Sept. 23, 2015.