New Era for America’s Most Famous Mountain

The new Summit Complex at the top of Pikes Peak is reaching new heights. When completed in 2021, the new visitor center will be one of the most sustainable, high-altitude structures in the country at more than 14,000 feet.

The Summit Complex, which attracts more than half a million visitors annually, is being constructed to meet the Living Building Challenge, which is the world’s most rigorous proven performance standard for buildings. The Challenge far surpasses LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certifications. To meet this goal, an interagency team will restore the building’s relationship with nature, create an environment that optimizes physical and psychological health and well-being and use materials that are safe for all species going forward.

Pikes Peak – America’s Mountain, RTA Architects, GE Johnson Construction Company, Colorado Springs Utilities and many more community leaders will bring this project to life and create a building that’s truly focused on the future.

“I’ve said it several times up here, this is the crown jewel of Colorado Springs,” said Rob Clough, project superintendent at GE Johnson Construction Company. “This sets a new standard for the future of projects like this in the Springs area, in the state and really in the nation as a whole.”

Building the complex is one thing, but building it the right way? The efficient, sustainable, future-focused way? That’s a challenge. There was really no choice but to put efficiency first in terms of water and energy use.

Brian Calhoun, partner at RTA Architects, made it clear that when it comes to water on Pikes Peak, every drop counts.

“To support the complex’s current operation, 176 tank loads are driven up and down the mountain every year for water and wastewater services. There’s a tremendous cost to that in labor and in energy, fuel, even some danger with heavy trucks going up and down the road,” said Calhoun.

“We are an isolated, remote area. Our goal is to become self-sufficient as much as we can.”
—Jack Glavan, manager of Pikes Peak – America’s Mountain

“Every piece of equipment is looked at to make sure it’s functional and efficient,” said Sandy Elliott, parks operations administrator for Pikes Peak. The restrooms present a massive opportunity to use water wisely inside the Summit Complex. The team is installing the same vacuum flush technology you’d find in airplanes. Last year, nearly 600,000 gallons of water were trucked up to the summit of Pikes Peak—nearly a gallon per guest—and the goal is to reduce that number drastically.

“A really good toilet that you’d put in a new house today uses 1.25 gallons per flush and a vacuum flush toilet is 0.32, so it’s 20% of what a normal toilet does. That alone tells a pretty huge story,” explained Mike Riggs, associate principal at RTA Architects.

But that’s not the only way the building will use water wisely. “We have radiant heating in all of the main level. All the concrete is heated through a boiler and water system,” said Brad Densmore, construction project specialist at Pikes Peak – America’s Mountain. This design will help the building stay near the same temperature through the year—a critical challenge in an environment that is below freezing 75% of the time.

Tim Redfern, construction manager for GE Johnson Construction Company, added, “You don’t have these giant swings in temperature in the building.” This system is also energy efficient, as radiant heat will regulate the temperature inside the building.

From hydronic in-floor heating to insulation, the team is targeting a 36% reduction in energy costs prior to pursuing any renewable strategies.

Everything must be energy efficient if it is going to be part of the Summit Complex—including the machine that makes the iconic donuts. They’re a staple of summiting Pikes Peak. “The design team found kitchen equipment that handles the whole fryer process better by filtering the air around the machine, then automatically recirculating. It reduces energy loss,” Calhoun said.

The Summit Complex is the perfect embodiment of what it means to change the current. “This is a good example of agencies and businesses in Colorado Springs that take the time and invest resources in projects that will have long-term, positive impact,” said Laura Rinker, communications director at GE Johnson Construction Company.

This project is a beacon for future industrial and residential construction projects in the community. If people see that it’s possible to be energy efficient and water wise at 14,000 feet, the hope is that they’ll be inspired to do so at home, too.

“Our goal is to minimize both the water and energy use. We are an isolated, remote area, so people must remember that. Hopefully, people carry that with them as they come down the mountain…and back to their residence,” says Glavan.

The Pikes Peak Summit Complex is changing the current and you can too. Get started at changethecurrent.com. You can also read more about the Pikes Peak Summit Complex at pikespeakcolorado.com.