The new Summit House on Pikes Peak is a project where people are literally moving mountains.
At a cost of nearly $50 million, this undertaking will take years to complete. Plans for the grand opening are expected in the late summer or fall of 2020.
The reason for the lengthy work schedule is simple: altitude.
At 14,115 feet above sea level, the elevation of Pikes Peak presents a number of challenges not typically dealt with on your usual construction jobs in the city.
G.E. Johnson won the bid to take on this massive project, and is taking every precaution for the benefit of their workers and equipment.
Before any workers are even hired, they must pass a stringent physical. Once that is complete, they are then allowed to take the orientation, which covers all aspects of higher-altitude risks and methods of adaptation. Managers say that even the healthiest people are prone to altitude sickness, which includes fatigue, nausea, headache, and dizziness, among other less severe symptoms. If a person with this condition is not treated, their condition could worsen and their health could be in danger.
G.E. Johnson policy is to work in conjunction with Pikes Peak High Altitude EMTs to ensure proper care and protocols are in place. If someone begins to feel the onset of sickness, they are immediately taken down to lower altitude, treated, and then given another chance the next day to decide if they can, or want to, return.
Another policy is the buddy system. Construction crews are not allowed to be alone at any time while on the summit. Each person must frequently ask the other how they feel, and answer honestly when they’re asked.
The lack of oxygen on the summit affects performance until acclimation is set. Workers start at three to five hours per day, then slowly increase to five or six hour shifts, and eventually make it to eight to 10 hours per day.
Not only are people de-rated from the start, but machines and equipment are also de-rated by as much as 40 percent.
In the early stages, a lot of foundation pieces are pre-fabricated within the city and transported to the summit in the early morning or after the Pikes Peak Highway is closed to vehicles at the end of the day. Getting sections built at lower elevations is easier on workers and machinery. So, along with the weather, where temperatures can drop below sub-freezing and winds average 40 to 50 miles per hour and can get up to more than 100 miles per hour, crews must also work around an active tourist destination.
Another big challenge of the new Summit House project is Pikes Peak itself. The mountain is solid bedrock and completely frozen. Massive explosions have blasted thousands of pounds of earth through frost, rocks, dirt and sheets of ice to get well below 30 feet from the surface. It’s an ordeal just to dig down far enough to start putting foundation beams and support columns in place.
With all these challenges ongoing, there is a sense of pride among those involved to create something that has never been done before in the U.S.
The original summit house will remain open until the new facility is ready. Workers say it’s just what a mountain of this stature needs, and one which will attract even more visitors to Colorado Springs.