Helena-based Dick Anderson Construction expects to begin restoration work on the historic Sperry Chalet next month after being awarded a $4 million contract by the National Park Service.
Park Service officials bypassed the open bidding process when they awarded the contract, with spokesperson Sally Mayberry saying on Tuesday that they needed to use an expedited contracting method in order to meet project deadlines.
Park service officials said there was an "unusual and compelling urgency" to begin work in July to permanently stabilize the burned chalet's stone walls before the heavy snow starts to fall in autumn.
The park service's Denver Service Center, which helps plan and design large construction projects, decided to limit the bidding competition to four large Montana construction companies, which it identified through research. Two of the companies submitted bids, with Dick Anderson Construction winning the contract over Swank Enterprises.
A representative with Swank Enterprises declined to reveal the amount of its bid.
Abraham Xiong, president of the Atlanta-based Government Contractors Association, said the U.S. government often invokes regulations that allow it to bypass the normal bidding or procurement process, particularly for projects of $4 million or less.
"It all depends on what justification they use," Xiong said. "If it's a matter of safety, if it's a matter of national security."
In a park service document signed May 8 and titled "Justification and Approval For Other Than Full and Open Competition," officials said Sperry Chalet presents a public safety issue.
"Failure to complete the permanent stabilization as soon as possible will result in life safety hazards to the visitors, further damage to the structure and potential loss of historic significance of the existing building, all of which may result in additional monetary damages to the NPS," the document says.
Limiting bidding and using a local company would allow faster mobilization, allow for more time to procure materials, and the company would bring knowledge of the resources available, the document says.
This summer’s work will include permanent stabilization of what was a wood and stone structure until an ember storm on Aug. 31, 2017, during the Sprague fire. After the fire, only the stone walls and chimney remained; the chalet dormitory, which was part of the Sperry complex, was built in 1914. A nearby dining hall was slightly damaged during the fire.
The iconic Sperry and Granite chalets are the only remaining stone lodges in Glacier that hearken back to the days when visitors arrived on the Great Northern Railway to explore the park by horseback.
“The fact that we are here today to announce the award for Phase I of the Sperry rebuild speaks to the power of the Glacier community and partnership. Throughout our design process, we heard from visitors around the world about the significance of the Sperry Chalet visitor experience,” Park Superintendent Jeff Mow said in a news release.
This summer’s stabilization effort includes roofing and interior seismic walls to further protect the structure.
Federal funds will cover the reconstruction work this year, as part of a $257 million allocation for maintenance projects for national parks in the Department of Interior budget. Secretary Ryan Zinke earmarked $12 million in the budget for the Sperry Chalet restoration work.
Along with the $4 million this year, funding for subsequent phases include a $1.2 million property insurance reimbursement, privately solicited donations from the Glacier National Park Conservancy, and the additional federal funds. Work on the reconstruction project is expected to wrap up in 2019, after crews finish the roof, construct interior floors, framing and finishes, and any remaining exterior work.
The conservancy raised $200,000 immediately after the fire, which was used for emergency stabilization of the stone walls and chimneys.
"The outpouring of support for this project has been inspiring," Doug Mitchell, executive director of the conservancy, said in the same news release. "We're honored to help provide private, philanthropic support for this historic project.”
That work is expected to reduce subsequent project costs. Unforeseen events or conditions, could affect both the construction schedule and costs. No final cost estimates have been released.
The plan calls for the chalet dormitory to reflect its “period of significance” from 1914 to 1949, with some critical upgrades including fire-resistant materials. It will be rebuilt in the same location, despite concerns about avalanches, and the two-story structure will again sleep about 50 people once it’s rebuilt.
Because of its remote location and limited construction season, crews and support staff are expected to live on-site for about 12 weeks. Anywhere from 150 to 220 round trips by a helicopter, as well as 35 to 60 round trips on pack strings, are expected to transport about 200 tons of construction materials and equipment, as well as supplies and food for the crews, which could number between 12 and 25 people.
“Visitors can expect construction activity to be ongoing throughout the summer with helicopter trips and pack animals on the Gunsight Trail,” said Lauren Alley, a Glacier park spokesperson. “The trail may close intermittently to protect public safety depending on the level of construction activity. Folks hiking in the area should check the park's trail status page for updates before they head out.”
The NPS' Denver Service Center will oversee the upcoming project.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.