It has been two years since the cranes and construction crews moved in at the summit of Pikes Peak to build a new, state-of-the-art Summit Complex. And this summer, the $60- to $65-million project has tipped past the halfway point toward completion. Despite the challenges of building on top of a 14er and a global pandemic, progress is taking shape on top of America’s Mountain.
If you’ve been up the Peak recently, you’ve seen the heavy machinery and the concrete and steel structure taking shape. It’s all an impressive feat of engineering prowess. In its commitment to responsibly steward the natural resources of its mountaintop location, the design and build teams at RTA Architects and GE Johnson Construction Company are pursuing a LEED Silver certification, and the Summit Complex will be the first Living Building Challenge certified project to be constructed in Colorado. Meeting these rigorous standards for green building means the summit complex will achieve Net Zero Energy, Net Zero Waste and Net Zero Water consumption. The goals are lofty—especially when you’re working at 14,115 feet above sea level.
“The logistics are probably the most difficult site that you could encounter,” says Tim Redfern, construction manager at G.E. Johnson.
And that was before the addition of COVID-19. The project had been targeted for a fall 2020 completion. It is now expected to be finished by spring 2021, and the summer building season has ramped up with about 70 to 80 employees on-site each day.
Because the summit and existing Summit House, built in 1963, are still open for visitors, each day’s first order of business is hauling materials up the 20 miles of winding Pikes Peak Highway before the gates open to the public at 7 a.m. Safety zones are maintained to ensure that visitors can still enjoy the current visitors center and the views of Colorado Springs below.
But there are many unpredictable factors. “Some of it you can understand but a lot of it, you can’t control,” says Scott Miller, operations director of G.E. Johnson.
Weather is always a wildcard at 14,000 feet. You might have a balmy sunny day in the Springs while it snows on Pikes. And the threat of lightning with afternoon thunderstorms is especially dangerous.
Of course, the altitude affects every aspect of the Summit Complex project. At 14,000 feet, machinery runs at about 60% of its usual power, according to Redfern. So a 100-horsepower engine functions at only 60 horsepower.
Humans run the risk of wearing themselves out too. GE Johnson has taken steps to make sure the workers stay healthy, and staff undergo a stringent physical test to help assess their ability to work on the summit. Still, about once a week a crew member experiences some type of altitude sickness, with the most common symptoms being nausea, headache or fatigue. As a precaution, there is an EMT stationed on-site. Construction workers also abide by a buddy system, so no one is ever alone in the high-alpine environment.
Because construction was considered an essential activity, the work hasn’t been slowed by the coronavirus pandemic. But avoiding an outbreak of COVID-19 has been paramount. Workers park below at the former Pikes Peak ski area at 5:30 a.m. each morning, where they board sanitized and socially distanced busses to the summit. Workers wear masks and undergo public health screening questions, ensuring that they haven’t been sick or in contact with sick individuals in the past 24 hours.
As for the construction itself, progress has been especially evident for the northern overlook. Much of the northern overlook boardwalk has been laid, and steel framing for the northern overlook is in place, overhanging the summit’s edge for dramatic, precipitous views. Excavation is underway to prepare for the east boardwalk. And the Americans with Disabilities Act-accessible central boardwalk is complete.
With the steel framing in place on the Visitor Center building, it’s easy to envision the multistory windows where visitors will enjoy expansive views toward Mount Rosa. Interior partition framing is beginning to show the shape and configuration of the indoor environment. Work on the exterior masonry and finishes has begun, and as the summer proceeds, the building will take on more of its identifiable final form. There are several sequences of work necessary to reach the building’s final enclosure, but if the summer weather cooperates, the team hopes to begin enclosing the building.
“Pikes Peak is an iconic National Historic Landmark,” says Jack Glavan, manager of Pikes Peak America’s Mountain. “I think this visitor center, and the improvements we’re making on this site are going to reflect that.”
The coronavirus pandemic has slowed financial donations, but fundraising efforts have brought in $12 million to date of the $15 million fundraising goal. As overall progress continues, the team remains optimistic and on track for completion by the summer 2021 tourist season.
Watch the Progress on Pikes Peak
Want to see it happening live? Watch this video tour of the Summit Complex construction with Rob Clough, GE Johnson superintendent.
Check out this time-lapse video of Summit Complex construction.
Did You Know?
- At 14,115 feet, the Pikes Peak Summit Complex is the highest construction project in the United States.
- The new 38,000-square-foot Summit Complex more than doubles the size of the current Summit House.
- The glass used for the large windows has been tested to withstand 240 mph winds.
- At 1,500 pounds, the doughnut-making machine is so large it has to be brought into the new Summit Visitor Center before the final framing of the doors can take place.
- To save water, the site will use vacuum toilets.
- The building utilizes a “varied thermal set-point strategy” which helps to maximize efficiency by heating and cooling different areas of the building separately.
- The Summit Complex circulates water throughout the building for heating and cooling. The circulation of cold water will save 10% in energy use, and the circulation of hot water will save 35% in heating use.