Two years seems like a long time for the Paradise Inn on the flanks of Mount Rainier to be shuttered to the general public. But it will definitely be worth it once the grand dame reopens in March 2008.
Mount Rainier National Park officials last week finally issued the contracts needed to get the inn's rehabilitation under way. And though it's called Paradise, the inn definitely needs some serious structural repairs. Built in 1916, the inn currently fails to meet current building standards and codes, and it's not exactly handicap accessible.
Plus, it could literally fall apart at just about any moment. Just a decade ago a survey of the inn led engineers to say it could experience a catastrophic failure...within 10 years. Not the best news for an inn located on the flanks of a volcano. Makes you wonder why it took so long for officials to close the structure down?
Anyway, the good news is that the repairs on the inn are beginning. The not-so-good news is that the park wasn't able to get all the money it needed to get the job done. Read on and I'll tell you how they hope to manage.
So, how will the folks at Mount Rainier cope? Well, for starters you should know that this $34.7 million project doesn't merely involve rebuilding the Paradise Inn. No, it also includes tearing down the Jackson Visitor Center and replacing it with a new, smaller, facility.
In a memo to his staff, Mount Rainier Superintendent Dave Uberuaga outlined the challenges this project presents.
"Due to a volatile construction market, the contractor bids received at the end of March exceeded the available line-item construction funds by several million dollars," he told them. "We had the choice of cancelling the solicitation, then going through a redesign process to reduce the scope of the work and then going out for another bid cycle, which would have resulted in at least a one-year delay and would have cost several million dollars more for less project scope due to escalating costs.
"The other choice was to enter into negotiations with all parties and also work with our Washington & regional offices and Congress to find additional fund sources to close the gap. The decision was to tackle what seemed to be an insurmountable problem with open dialogue, negotiations and a win-win attitude for all parties involved."
Gotta love that can-do attitude. That said, cutting through the chafe, the bottom line is that engineers and architects reduced the size of the new visitor center by ten percent, eliminated some outside plaza nuances, and decided to go with asphalt, not concrete, on the plaza.
As for the inn itself, "The lobby, dining room and east wing rehabilitation remained as specified but we had to eliminate nearly all the rehabilitation and seismic work on the snow bridge and the Annex," said Uberuaga. "In addition to cutting project scope, we requested additional construction dollars from the WASO Construction Program. A difficult decision was made to cancel the $4 million Pinnacles maintenance facilities project and re-allocate half the funds to the Mount Rainier project.
"In addition, $700,000 of the park's concession Franchise Fees were allocated for the award along with a $1.8 million loan from (Mount Rainier concessionaire) Guest Services Incorporated (GSI) that will be repaid with park franchise fees over the next 6 years."
Even with all that pencil pushing, the park still wound up nearly $4 million shy of the funds it wanted for such things as visitor center exhibits, demolition of the old visitor center, rehabbing of the lower parking lot at Paradise, and landscape work.
So what's being done? Glad you asked. The park will tap its fee demo funds to help bridge the financial gap. And, naturally, there's a downside to that money shift -- it will force park officials to postpone nearly two dozen "important projects," said the superintendent.
"In the next few weeks we will work to develop a revised spending plan for the park fee funds. All fee projects scheduled for this summer will continue as planned," he added. "Although the above series of decisions were complex and will create a short-term burden on the park, it was in our best interest and the NPS's best interest to make these park sacrifices for the 'good of the Service and the public.'"
Oh, and while all this work is going on, although things will be a bit crowded at Paradise, you'll still be able to get there and enjoy the mountain. Check out the park's web site for a rundown on both the construction and how to maneuver around it.