By Amanda Hancock, The Gazette
COLORADO SPRINGS — Upon arriving at the top of Pikes Peak, visitors might not expect to see a bustling construction site in the middle of the breathtaking views they came for.
Sometimes they pass by workers clad in hard hats and neon vests, like the site’s project manager Rob Clough, and ask, “What are you guys doing up here?”
The answer is impossible to miss. A crew of 100 from GE Johnson spend each day working on the $60 million structure that will soon be the new Pikes Peak Summit Complex.
“Guests can feel how hard it is to breathe up here,” Clough said on a recent morning atop the 14,115-foot (4,302-meter) mountain. “They’re so impressed seeing the amount of work going on.”
Halfway into 2020, he said work is about 50% done on the new visitor’s center, which, at 38,000 square feet (3,530 square meters), will be more than twice the size of the current Summit House, built in 1963. The complex is expected to open by spring of 2021, a date that is months behind the previous plan of this fall.
Since beginning in 2018, construction has hit delays mostly because of occasional bursts of cold and blustery weather such as 65 mph (104 kph) winds, lightning, snow and hail, Clough said.
“Last week was rough with these afternoon lightning storms,” he said. “By 1 o’ clock every day, it killed our ability to continue working.”
When that happens, workers are back by 5:30 a.m. the next day to be shuttled up America’s Mountain and keep working.
“I tell them every day to be proud of this,” Clough said. “It’s once in a lifetime.”
The coronavirus outbreak hasn’t affected progress, Clough said, as construction was deemed an essential activity.
Much of 2019 was spent on getting the facility’s primary structure up.
Now, Clough said the goal within the next few months is to complete the exterior of the building, including installing glass windows that will provide unobstructed views of Mount Rosa and beyond. The glass being used has been tested to withstand 240 mph (386 kph) winds.
“This year, we’re very energized and focused on closing up the building,” he said. “And then we’ll be able to get more into the final touches.”
The top floor of the Summit House will house the kitchen, dining areas, retail center and open-air decks. The building will also feature interactive displays and exhibits pertaining to the history of Pikes Peak.
If all goes according to plan, the building will be LEED certified as well as up to standards of the Living Building Challenge, described on its website as “the most rigorous green building standard ever.”
A concrete walkway system, following ADA regulations, will connect guests to the Summit House as well as north, east and west overlooks. It will also connect to the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, which is currently closed and under repair.
Throughout the complex, crews have used rustic-looking steel and concrete that matches the color of Pikes Peak’s rocks and boulders.
“It’s important to maintain the natural beauty,” Clough said. “We want it to look almost the same as when we started.”
A short walk away from the power tools and heavy machinery, visitors were taking photos in front of the popular Pikes Peak Summit sign and carrying bags of doughnuts out of the existing Summit House, which is about 12,000 square feet (1,115 square meters).
“The building was built in the ’60s and it has served its purpose over that time,” said Jack Glavan, manager of Pikes Peak America’s Mountain, an enterprise of Colorado Springs. “It has exceeded its life.”
The new complex will be an upgrade in more ways than one, said Glavan. It will offer more space and activities for visitors. And it will offer, most important, spectacular views.
“You don’t want to out-mountain the mountain,” he said. “Pikes Peak is iconic. The building is just going to enhance it.”