Encore Electric Works on the Highest Elevation Project in North America
May 13, 2020 – Denver, Colo. – Pikes Peak is one of the most iconic mountains in the United States, achieving its fame in the lore of explorers and songwriters. Now construction teams are making it more iconic by building the monumental Pikes Peak Summit House at 14,115 feet above sea level, the highest elevation project being built in North America right now. With general contractor partner GE Johnson, Encore Electric has worked through all phases of design and construction on this project. If the challenge of working at high elevation wasn’t enough, the project team has ambitions to achieve the Living Building Challenge. This sustainability certification is extremely difficult to achieve and only a small number of buildings in the world have accomplished this level of sustainability, including the Bullitt Center in Washington and The R.W. Kern Center in Massachusetts.
Extreme project elevation has impacted the entire construction process, from submittals to the types of materials that can be installed to extreme weather. Encore Electric relocated the primary power feeds out of the footprint of the new building to allow for excavation to start. Due to high altitude, every craftsperson is required to pass a very involved fitness test prior to receiving a badge to enter the project site.
Steve Young is the project superintendent for both the Pikes Peak Summit Complex and the adjoining High Altitude Research Laboratory (HARL), being constructed for the U.S. Air Force. Young speaks to the challenge and significance of these unique projects, “These projects represent Encore Electric’s unique ability to provide a world-class product to the customer in nothing short of extreme environments” Young said.
The limited space at altitude requires a substantial effort to enlist Encore Electric’s prefabrication department to keep the on-site workers from becoming too strained. Fitness and personal health play a very active role in daily work, as employees are effectively reduced to 50% of what they are capable of doing at lower elevations.
Another high-elevation challenge that often gets overlooked is transporting tools and material to the site. While working on a remote job site is fairly common for Encore Electric, this commute requires specialty trucks that are capable of navigating the tight switchbacks and steep grades.
The visibility of these projects extends beyond the City of Colorado Springs, as this type of construction has never been attempted at such high elevation. Every aspect of the build is unexplored territory, from the below-grade precast concrete structure, to the unique challenge of sustainable construction material requirements outlined as the Living Building Challenge.
“I do believe this project is one that Encore should be proud to have, and I personally feel fortunate to have such an iconic building visible from Denver to Pueblo right in my backyard,” Young added.
Preconstruction Manager Colby Foos recalls the beginning of the Pikes Peak project in 2015. “It has required many years of planning, budgeting, and preparations along with our operations team in order to move this project forward.” he said. “And with that we are still early in the construction phases of the project. Trying to manage a budget for a project that could go well past anybody’s predictions for escalation was challenging.”
The Central Utility Plant that fed the existing building (which needed to stay operational until the new one was built) sat right in the footprint of where the new Summit House will be. The preconstruction team ingeniously put the Central Utility Plant (waste water tanks, fresh water tanks, and electrical) into 40 foot Connex trailers prefabbed in Colorado Springs, and located them next to the existing Summit House, to keep things operational until the new building is complete. The team also took the existing generator and put it in a weatherproof enclosure for their backup needs.
Despite the abundant challenges, the project team remains passionate and excited about the work on this unique project.
“It really has been a fun and challenging project,” said Foos.
The Summit Complex is scheduled to be complete in the spring of 2021. Once finished, the new visitor center will provide guests with a historical experience and education around the significance of Pikes Peak to the region. There will also be a large dining area with panoramic views of the Front Range, from Colorado Springs to Pueblo, a gift shop, and an expansive raised walkway system around the entire summit area.