Mean dogs never let go of a bone, just as former politicians never let go of an unresolved issue. Leaving city council in 1997, one unresolved item led my “to do” list as a private citizen; a new Summit House for Pikes Peak. So I got to work, going to meetings, writing stories and columns for CSBJ and the Independent, reaching out to city government, mobilizing former supporters — and nothing happened.
After a while I figured out that former politicians-turned-journalists are like toothless dogs — all bark and no bite.
Fourteen years later, Steve Bach took office as the city’s first strong mayor. Joining with another (and maybe more credible) former pol, retired County Commissioner Jim Bensberg, we pitched the new Summit House to Bach. He told us to put together a report, which he passed on to Karen Palus, the city’s parks, recreation and cultural services director.
The new form of government meant that Bach could empower Palus to join with Jack Glavan, the wily longtime boss of the city-owned enterprise Pikes Peak–America’s Mountain, and figure out how to move forward.
It wouldn’t be easy. The city isn’t the only player on the summit, a National Historic Landmark where substantial changes must gain the assent of the summit concessionaire, the Forest Service, the Army, the Department of the Interior, the cog railway, Colorado Springs Utilities and the city. And let’s not forget city residents, as well as the voices and opinions of every other resident of the greater Pikes Peak region.
Somehow the seven major stakeholders came together, structured a deal and helped put together a not-quite-complete funding package. There are no villains in this story — call them the Magnificent Seven.
And now we’re entering the homestretch, thanks to Palus, Glavan, Bach and his successor John Suthers, Stuart Coppedge and RTA Architects, Jim Johnson and his team at GE Johnson and many others. Putting together the deal was an extraordinary political achievement, but it was just the beginning.
“The weather on Pikes Peak is cold, icy, windy and generally unforgiving,’’ noted Bill Hoffman in Civil + Structural Engineer [magazine], who’s in charge of geotechnical engineering for the project. “By October, temperatures can plummet to zero, with wind chills falling even lower. Snowstorms sweep in quickly, with wind gusts reaching up to 100 mph, and even up to nearly 195 mph in rare cases. During the winter, temperatures can drop to -40 degrees. Roof snow loads can approach 125 pounds per square foot vs. an average 30 pounds per square foot in Colorado Springs. Ground conditions are bedrock and alpine permafrost, soil and rock that remains at or below freezing temperatures all year to depths of up to 200-plus feet, only warming above freezing in direct sunlight or due to external sources.”
The construction season is only six months at best, and the altitude limits workers to 6.5 hours per day.
“We’re off the mountain by 2 p.m.,” said Hoffman, “because that’s when the thunderstorms and high winds roll in.”
And although the project was originally scheduled for completion in 2020, Hoffman now believes that it won’t be finished until the summer of 2021.
“This is really sensitive,” he said, “but I think we’re about a year behind schedule. We had governmental stuff that slowed us down, and then problems with excavation and blasting. It’s not like blasting in Cripple Creek — the permafrost in the fractured granite actually absorbs energy.”
And there are issues getting heavy equipment and prefabricated building components up the highway.
“Recently we had to drive a steel track hoe up and down the mountain — at speeds barely reaching 3 mph,” Hoffman wrote. “It took six hours to get down the mountain, in the middle of the night to avoid any car traffic.”
Hoffman, who’s a senior principal engineer for CTL/Thompson, has been involved with Pikes Peak since 1992. He’s delighted by the summit project, although he can no longer work more than three or four hours at a time on the peak. I asked him about the design life of the building.
“A hundred years?” he ventured.
Not bad — and it looks as if it will be a great legacy for all involved. While mine was a nothingburger role, I’m ludicrously proud of it.
Imagine a dog that finds a bone after 30 years of digging…