A look inside the new Pikes Peak Summit House, expected to be finished by the spring of 2021. (Video by Skyler Ballard)

Amid the din of earthmovers and work crews, the new $66 million Pikes Peak Summit House and raised walkways are taking shape to be not only more environmentally friendly than the existing building, but potentially restorative for the peak as well.

The walkways expected to open with the new building in May are designed to keep the hundreds of thousands of tourists that visit the peak off the fragile tundra and help it regenerate, said Sandy Elliott, operations administrator for Pikes Peak. The summit has been highly disturbed over more than 70 years by visitors who wander off trails, she said.

“We are going to keep people off of the tundra, off of the high altitude plants. … It will be restorative in nature,” she said.

The city expects to transplant tundra into disturbed areas to help with regeneration and has already had some success with transplanting the delicate plants, she said.

Environmental improvements aren't just outside. The new 38,000-square-foot building will make less of an impact on the mountain than the existing Summit House built in 1963, officials said.

The new building will have a closed-loop wastewater system serving the toilets that allows the solids to be removed and composted offsite while the water is reused again and again, said Jack Glavan, Pike’s Peak manager.

The wastewater system is the second of its kind in the state, Glavan said. Cutting water use at the summit is particularly crucial because fresh water for the building must be trucked in and wastewater trucked out. The new system will reduce water truck trips from 127 to 72 annually and wastewater trips from 174 to 69, according to RTA Architects, the lead architects on the project. 

Sunshine will help cut the building’s demand for electric heat. Shining through floor-to-ceiling windows, the sun will warm the floor and fluid running through lines underneath, said architect Stuart Coppedge, principal with RTA Architects. 

“It’s like a thermal sink,” he said.

After warming, the fluid then flows throughout the building and helps cut the overall energy demand, he said.

The city also expects to buy into a solar array system off site to offset the building’s electricity, Glavan said.

Efficient design for the building is all part of meeting the Living Building Challenge, which sets some of the most rigorous standards for building sustainability, Elliott said.

But comfort was not sacrificed in the Summit House where architects incorporated feedback from visitors to put in much larger restrooms, a doughnut maker and a dining room with a view, Coppedge said.

Accessibility was also part of the plan: The new building and trails will be fully accessible to those with disabilities, making it the first 14er in the world with few mobility restrictions, Elliott said.

Building at 14,000 feet

Construction has been challenged by arctic-like conditions at the 14,115-foot summit, including high winds and lightning, and set back the timeline for opening from fall 2020 to May. The weather was particularly inhospitable in fall 2018 and in spring 2019, Glavan said.

Some of the unique problems presented by weather have been solved while the building was under construction. For example, the windows were expected to deteriorate quickly if left exposed to the grit blowing in the high winds, so Coppedge and the contractor GE Johnson worked together to develop retractable shutters, Coppedge said.

Despite its cutting edge features, officials want to building to go a bit unnoticed. While it's meant to be iconic, with a grand staircase looking out to nearby Mt. Rosa, the structure is mostly meant to be secondary to the landscape, Coppedge said.

“We wanted to tuck it in, just like the animals that live up here, kind of, hide behind the rocks,” he said.

Final fundraising push

Fundraising, just like construction, is continuing and the city officials are planning to raise the final $2.8 million of $15 million in donations needed for the project before the building opens, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said. The city operates the 19-mile Pikes Peak Highway and summit complex through a special use permit from the U.S. Forest Service. 

The mountain's toll roads and fees paid by concessionaire Aramark are expected to cover about $51 million of new construction. The city bonded $30 million for the building and that debt will be repaid through the mountain's revenues, Glavan said. The remainder was paid through the mountain’s reserves, also generated from tolls and concession fees, he said. The mountain does not receive any city tax revenue.

If fundraising is not finished by the deadline, officials might delay putting up some final signs and restoration of the current summit house site after it’s demolished, Elliott said. The current summit house site will remain open until the new building is ready, city officials have said.

The fundraising campaign is selling sponsorships of the new walkway’s planks for $500 each to raise money, a project that's going well, Elliott said.

“Every week we seem to get more people interested,” Elliott said.

For more information about the campaign visit givetopikespeark.org.

Contact the writer at mary.shinn@gazette.com or (719) 429-9264.

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