Future Possibilities of the Chisos Mountains Lodge

On the evening of April 21, 2022 the National Park Service and Architectural Resources Group hosted a special virtual “first look” presentation on the current status and future of the Chisos Mountains Lodge. Attendees from around Texas and the Nation logged in to learn about the challenges of the current facility, rationale for possible replacement versus rehabilitation, and to see for the first time a variety of site plans, floorplans, and artist renderings of a potential replacement for the Chisos Mountains Lodge main building.

A recording of the presentation is now available below:


Open Transcript


Good evening, everybody. Welcome from beautiful, wild, wonderful, hot, Big Bend National Park Texas at park headquarters right now. It's 96 degrees and along the Rio Grande it's 106 right now. So our warm season has officially begun today.

Some of you may be following along things happening in the park - mainly a fire in Chisos Mountains. That fire has been contained as of late this afternoon at 30 acres. Good news on that front.

It's National Park Week. And National Park Week is a special event every year during the spring. We encourage everybody to enjoy the magic of their national parks and put on special presentations and programs and thinking about what we might provide. This was perfect timing because tonight we have a chance to share for the first time some of the neat things that are going on behind the scenes. A lot of work that's happening with park staff and partners as we look ahead to the many possibilities for the future of the Chisos Mountain Lodge. We're going to share a history on the lodge and issues that the lodge is facing, challenges that we have with the current building.

We'll have a chance to share with you some alternatives for the future of the lodge. And then have a chance to share some of the next steps and timelines and let you know where we are on all of these things. Very happy to present our main presenters for the evening. First of all, Bob Krumenaker who is the superintendent, Big Bend National Park. And Debbie Cooper who is principal from Architectural Resources Group. Viewers will be muted for the presentation. There were again live transcripts for the program. You can select captions and transcript. I believe there's a sign language interpreter that should be broadcasting. I'm not sure if I've seen them quite yet. I'm hoping that will happen here in a second. The presentation is going to be recorded. So if you were unable to connect or your friends had something else to do, they'll be able to get this message in another way. Hopefully later on this week or as soon as possible. And so again, welcome, everybody. We're excited to share this information. And at the end of the formal presentation component here, we'll have a chance for you to ask questions of Bob and Debbie. And we'll be doing that through the live CHAT feature that you can enable. But without any further ado I would like to start this presentation. Again, welcome everybody. We're glad to be here. This is a new format for us, but I think it will be fun. I would like to turn things over to superintendent Krumenaker. Take it over Bob.

Thank you, Tom. That was Tom VandenBerg, Big Bend Chief of Interpretation. Let me suggest. If you have a question during the presentation, Tom will be monitoring the CHAT. And he will moderate and cue up questions for Debbie and I to address. Let's start. We expect to talk for about half an hour or so. And we will stick around for about half an hour to answer questions.

So as Tom said, the purpose of this meeting is to talk about the Chisos Mountain Lodge. If you're not terribly familiar with the park, I need to make it clear, you have an odd terminologically here. The lodge has no lodging in it. We're talking about the main building that is, if you've ever been there, it's where you register to stay overnight. You stay overnight in a separate, one of many rooms, motel-- we're not talking about motels and cottages.The main building where you register, eat meals, restrooms are there and administrative offices for the concession company. And some storage.

We're looking at the whole entire footprint of the structure as a whole at the top of the hill. So we'll talk a bit about the history of the lodge and what the issues are with it that bring us to this point. It will become clear through some of the conversations and pictures that the building has significant structural issues. So we started off with the idea that, if we can rehabilitate this, this is the preferred goal. It's a historic building. But that's not looking very positive. So we'll show you why and show you alternatives that we're looking at. We'll also show you what we call the preferred alternative. Let me be clear. We have not made an official decision. We will talk about that in the next steps. And as Tom said we will open it up for discussion in Q&A. If there's a demand to keep going, we'll keep going. If you're with the media and you want extensive interviews, put that in the CHAT. And we'll do the best to accommodate.

With that, let me introduce Debbie Cooper who is one of the principals from the, Architectural Resources Group, working hand and glove with the staff on this project. Take it away, Debbie.

Thanks, Bob. I'm going to talk about the history and the issues with the lodge. As Bob said-- and then the design process that we've been going through. I'm just-- I want to say thank you to everybody who has joined today. I'm really impressed that we have such a large group of people and a great deal of interest. Wonderful to see. So the first development in the Chisos space was in the 1930s and 40s when cabins were constructed for overnight lodging. And then in the post World War II, more mobile society, the National Park Service started what they called their mission 66 development process. And the lodge and the first two motel units were constructed during that timeframe.

The lodge was built in the mission 66 style which was intended to harmonize with the natural setting and used modern materials and forms. You can see a photo on the left of it just after construction. And one of the main features of the building also was that, from the dining room there was a view to the window which was one of the prominent natural features in the landscape. So the complex has undergone a number of changes since the original construction. You can see the lodge up on top of the hill with the little red icon on it. There were storage building built to the north and public restroom and office structure built to the south of it. And four more motel units, visitor center, and camper Santa store all constructed to fill out the complex as you see it today.

My office started working on this project in 2018 to come out and look at what was happening with the building. And one of our first tasks was a structural investigation. What is happening is that there's been continued movement throughout the building because the foundations weren't designed correctly for the expansive clay soils that are below it. And so that has caused damage throughout the structure which has compromised its functionality and all of the notes on the drawings are different aspects of that damage. Today and in recent years, the US public health service has raised significant concerns about the building. While it continues to pass health inspections, the public health services strongly recommended a major renovation or replacement of the building.

Some of the damage that you see here is cracking on the north side of the building and in the dining room. And then the roof, the lower right-hand side, the image is showing an area where the roof has been patched because it has pulled apart. And below that in the kitchen, the roof is being shored up with a red-- I mean the yellow framing that you see there. And there are cracks in the floor. So it's definitely showing signs of wear and tear. We also performed in December of 2020 a floor level survey. Typically in across the span of a building this size, there might be half an inch to an inch of out of level. But what was found is almost ten inches of variation in the slab because it is dropping basically following the slopes of the hillside that it's sitting on. So as the soil below it expands and contracts every time it contracts, the building is kind of moving down with the soil. And can other issues with the building that really are kind of part of the original design that are a bit unfortunate is that, it's not really -- there are a couple of things that are, where it's not well oriented to the visitor arrival experience.

On the left, what you see is the loading dock which visitors who arrive and park in the circular driveway will walk past on the way to the entrance which is shown with this red arrow. And visitors who are coming from it the lower parking level come up the hill and end up in the space that you see in the upper right that is between public restrooms and the side of the building. So not a space that you can come into. So it's kind of a disorienting and unattractive arrival experience today.

So given the condition of the structure, what my office was tasked to do was look at ways to repair the building, to rehabilitate and repair it. And also rehabilitate it and expand it or look at a new structure to replace the building. And so thinking about how you would repair this building, where the foundations were not designed correctly for the soil condition, what that means is that you would need to essentially take out the slab and all the walls that you see dashed in here that are sitting on the slab, get under the foundations, and put peers in there. And that is very challenging and expensive. And what we could do is shore the roof up. But you would be losing almost everything underneath the roof while you're doing that. You would be able to retain some of the glazed walls around the perimeter of the building. But this glazed wall in front of the lobby has already been replaced. It's a non-historic wall. And then the walls around the dining room which retain their original framing were in very poor condition. And most of the glazing has been replaced. And because the building's movement-- and they also would need to be replaced with dual pane glazing and an aluminum frame wall to meet current fire codes and to improve the facility for energy code. So for all of those reasons, rehabilitation is not the preferred alternative. And primarily, you know, you're losing most of the character defining features of the building because of the complexity of the underpinning. And you wouldn't be retaining the dining room. Glazing would need to be replaced for energy and wildfire purposes.

So the rehabilitation is not the preferred alternative. You just lose too much of the building to really constitute a rehabilitation project. >> So I'll talk a little bit about the-- let me put my screen back on. I'll talk about the goals. Can you go one slide back? I want to clarify one more thing, please. The last bullet there was, this will be an adverse effect under the national preservation act. Many people are concerned about the history. So whenever there is an adverse impact we have to go through a thorough review. And that's what we're doing. And in fact the public review period which is starting tonight is part of that process. But the law does not require spending unlimited amount of money when it isn't practical to do so. Obviously, replacing the building is adverse effect, but as Debbie said, even repairing it would be an adverse impact. Next slide, please. So one of the things we wanted to do to minimize the impact on natural resources and historic scene was to construct the new structure within the footprint of what's already been disturbed. Essentially within the footprint of existing buildings and immediately surrounding area of disturbed soil. Obviously because of the fundamental structural issues that we have, we want a building that will be structurally stable, that will function despite the expansive soils. And therefore it's going to require, as Debbie said in the repair situation, a very well-engineered and rather complex foundation. And you know, you've seen the issues with walls cracking and ceilings falling down. And even though it's still legally safe for us to use this building, that is clearly not sustainable. And so safety and visitor comfort or visitor experience are high priorities for us. The building is a period piece. We're trying not to be critical of our predecessors. There were corners that were cut and we're paying the price for that right now. Obviously we want to be conscious of the taxpayers money but we want to build a quality building. One thing important to note when the building that is there now was designed in the early 1960s, there was one sixth of the visitor to the park. The building does not have the capacity of either. One thing that's really important. We're in a desert. There is not a lot of water. And energy and water efficiency are really important. So one of the criteria that I challenged Debbie and her team with is, if we're going to increase any of the capacity of the building, I still don't want to use any more energy and water. That is a huge part of the design criteria and challenge. Debbie mentioned, accessibility. This is on the top of the hill. Even if good condition, this does not meet any of the current codes from mobility accessibility. And so we need to make sure that a new structure complies with all accessibility codes, ramps and things of that nature. This is an area that is subject to wildfire. One of the worries we've always had is fire travels up hill. And if ever there were a fire down near the window, it would travel up hill. It's never happened. We're very grateful for that. Last year we had a substantial fire in the high mountains above. But we were concerned if the fire Amber came down. So the new building has to be wildfire resistant. And Debbie talked about mission 66 design principles. And I would add to them the secretary of the interior standards for historic preservation. And our goal here would be to reflect the important principles of the original design, the open spaces, the lots of glazing, not a lot-- great views and also do a much better job than the original to harmonize it with the setting. Some people are great fans of mission 66. Some are not. One of the things that made it a program throughout the national park system throughout the country is similar designs were put in many national parks around the country. If you were to go to Shenandoah, you would look like you were looking at the Chisos Mountain Lodge. We want to make sure that we somehow integrate the best part of mission 66 and do a better job of harmonizing with the setting of the national park. Because this building was built for a very small fraction of the number of visitors we have today and the way that both businesses are operated as well as visitors visiting the national park has changed inside the building, it's inefficient. The hallways are narrow. The storage is in the wrong place. The loading dock is in an awkward place. We're looking hard to improve the efficiency of the building as an operating system. And so one of the things we've done was really look at what architects have taught me what we call the program. What are the functions we're trying to achieve. And let's use the design and esthetics as the last thing we look at. And so Debbie will talk about the program and the interior design before we show you pictures of what it might look like. >> Back to me? >> Yes. >> Debbie: Okay. So this is the fun part. So the new building is located on the footprint of the existing building as Bob mentioned. But what we've done is really, is reorient it so that it is really visitor facing. So the lobby now is facing South Side of the building. And when somebody comes in and is parking in this lower parking lot, they can come up the hillside via a stair or this long, wiggly path that you see that is our new accessible route. And land on a terrace here that will take you directly into the building. And if you park in the loop parking lot, there's also an entry on the north side. The loading dock, I mean, on the east side, the loading dock is on the north side now. And if you can see my pointer, you can see where it is. So it's really-- and it's at a lower level. So it's tucked under the building and much less visible for visitors. People who are coming for day use will come in the entry drive. And they will -- they can stop at the visitor center which is still existing visitor center in the lower level of the hillside and park in that area. The restrooms for the visitor center, the intent is to expand those and in a later phase to remodel the visitor center. In this phase, we'll be creating a plaza adjacent to the visitor center that provides a better connection than currently exists to the trail heads. And an accessible path that goes all the way from the entry terrace at the lodge proper down the curvy path of the hillside, across to the visitor center and over to the trail heads. So the whole site now will have a connected, accessible pathway. Moving into the building, we'll look at the lodge program a little more closely. So here we are arriving at the top of the pathway on a nice, outdoor terrace where there will be seat walls, trees for shading, some tables for sitting down and maybe having your lunch. And you can enter directly across from the pathway into the reception area which is the reception for the motel units as Bob was mentioning before. Also from the outdoor terrace, you can go into the retail shop. This retail space will consolidate the retail that was formerly next to the visitor center, because to provide a more efficient operation, the gift shop and the camper store will be in this area. And additionally there will be expanded food service in this area. So there will be grab and go here which will be a new feature for this area. We have larger restrooms up here that can be accessed from the outside when the building is closed. And then on the north end of the building which is the left end of your screen, we have concession offices and employee entrance, employee restrooms and storage for the retail. The reception and the terrace are oriented to face to bed the mountains, toward the south and west to really to be consistent with mission 66 principles, to really connect from the interior and exterior public spaces with the natural surroundings. We feel that's a very important participant of the design. And then moving upstairs from the reception, guests will take the stair or elevator. So this is all accessible now to the second floor where the restaurant is. So we have a main restaurant space with 150 seats in it that can be subdivided for group dining, private group dining or the bar can be separated or the whole space can be open. Theres a waiting terrace outside. So folks can enjoy the beautiful views in all directions from that terrace. And there's also outdoor dining on the second level that will seat around 80 people with, you know, views again to the north, the south, and the west from the dining terrace and the West Side of the building. And then from the east side of the building which never really happened in the existing building from the bar and group dining side, we now have views to casa grande which is really the most prominent feature on the site. So I'm excited about that. We have a new kitchen coming in that will support all of this dining and as Bob said, the kitchen is being designed for water and energy efficiency. All of the equipment is the most efficient that we can specify. And employee dining is also on this level. The lower level of the building, is loading dock, mechanical equipment, storage, lots of fun stuff that nobody really wants to see. What does the building look like? We looked at a number of different ways to articulate the building. And several roof forms and material options which I'm going to walk you through kind of our design and thought process for those. So we started looking at-- well, a Gable roof scheme which is fairly long linear scheme with a stone-based and can then stucco above that. The stone is would match the materials on the site. So the building would feel very integrated into that. Glazing on the, around the dining room and the reception sections of the building. Couple rendering showing what that might look like. And then on the outdoor dining terrace we have a shade structure over the dining area. One of the things that is, was challenging though with the Gable roof structure is to actually be able to put solar panels on the roof. So we started looking at schemes that orient the roofs to the sun. So to the south. And so that we can generate some energy on site. And one scheme we looked at was this scheme is sawtooth roofs, similarly with a stone facade and shading over the dining. And then we looked at a shed roof scheme. So this works with the idea of orienting the roofs to the south. But it gives us longer, more efficient area to layout solar panels. And more simplified, I think a little bit more elegant structure. Again looking at stone for the lower section. We're dividing the building horizontally to keep it, you know, low lying and connected to the land. And then we have stucco in the upper part of the building in this scheme. And in this one, we're looking at horizontal siding which would be a cement fiber product. So it would be something that looks like wood but is fire resistant. Right now this is what we're thinking of as our preferred alternative. And as Bob said, this is a schematic still. Long way to go in developing and finalizing it. But it-- you know, it's a concept that we think works well for the building that integrates into the site and follows a lot of the mission 66 principles. This is the east side of the building. This is a view in the dining room. So the dining room would be very glassy. And the shed roofs, because they slope up, they give us an opportunity to put a clear story. So windows at the top of the wall just below the roof. So we capture more views to the north. And allow daylight in. So that's an opportunity also for energy reduction. Here's the view from below, from the hillside that you would see as you're approaching the site. And that's it. Back to Bob. >> Bob: Thank you, Debbie. I saw a couple of questions in the CHAT that I will be responding to right now. So as Debbie said, the decision has not been made. We're certainly giving you the indication that what our current thinking is, and where we're leaning. But with any federal project, we have to make sure that we comply with both natural and historic laws that require us to consider alternatives, look at impacts and disclose to the public what we're doing. Despite the fact this is a fairly significant project, under the-- act, it does not raise to the level of environmental statement and assessment in large part because we are staying within the footprint of a developed area and we are doing necessary renovations to comply with health and safety codes. And that allows us to not have to go through that expensive process and use your tax dollars that way. On the cultural side we mentioned several times that this is a historically significant building. It was found eligible for the national register for historic places because it is more than 50 years old and embodies the mission 66 era. And yet even when we submitted that paperwork, we acknowledged the condition was poor and the integrity of the building was questionable. So we are negotiating right now with the preservation office and as you would expect and want them to do, they're not saying, oh, sure you can tear down and start building. They're needing us to make the case as we're doing with you tonight visually as to why renovation, rehabilitation is just not feasible and not cost effective. So we provided that information to them essentially an expanded version with a lot of narrative from what we're showing you tonight. And we're looking forward to hearing from them and we're optimistic that we'll be able to reach an agreement with them this summer. Provided do we do, they insist we do a certain amount of mitigation. And it's our expectation that we'll be able to do that by interpreting the building as we talk numerous times, making keep in the new building many of the mission 66 principles. And we talked about that. And we are also beginning right now, full documentation of the existing structure, something called the history irk American building survey. someone asks what it costs. It's a lot of money, $22 million. It is funded by Congress, in the American outdoors act which passed in had 2020, bipartisan San. That law is a remarkable law and didn't get enough press as far as I'm concerned. That has provided a tremendous amount of money to the National Park Service and other land management agencies and the fund source is actually off shore revenue. So this is not actually increasing anyone's taxes which is pretty cool. And so we had $22 million. The concern though is, even in the time that Debbie's been associated with this project and the timeline, we hired ARG before we even knew where the money was coming from. So we knew we needed to do something. And we were doing everything we can line to lineup the money. The great concern is the cost of construction all over the country is skyrocketing. So we don't know if $22 million is enough. Some of the things Debbie showed on the first schematic of the site may either have to dropoff or wait for funding source. The priority is doing the necessary work including the accessible pathway. Everything else is important, but it may or may not be funded out of this project. So our plan is to, once we get the approvals from the state agency for state preservation and national office of the National Park Service, if all goes well, we will go to contracting this summer. The target being September for a design build contract. So Debbie's firm is doing both the schematic design which we're showing you an almost finished product for this conceptual product or schematic design. This is the big picture but not all the details. And they're writing the specifications for us for the design build contract which means we will hire another firm to finish the design and actually build it. And the goal is to fast track that project, design to have them this Fall, winter and spring. And I think from here on in, the targets are a little bit uncertain and speculative. But the goal will be to begin demolition as soon as July 1 of next year and finish the building in about two years. So obviously that's going to cost a lot of disruption. In the meantime, this building is owned by the National Park Service but it is assigned to a private company to operator all the commercial services that are physically located in the park, the motel, the dining room, stores, gas stations, the RV park at Rio Grande. They're all under a single contract. And we were about to go and do a new contract in 2018 when we learned through Debbie's firm the condition of the building. And we made the decision to pull that contract back because the facility wouldn't last as long as the contract would. So we are working right now with our regional and national staff to update the prospectus, the RFP, request for proposals or the concessions contract. That will go public soon after the first of the year if we stay on schedule for a new contract to be effective in July of 2024. Obviously there is some period of time you have a demolition in 2023. A new contract in 2024. And you don't have the building done until 2025. The big question is, what is the transition plan look like? All I can tell you is we are spending a lot of energy trying to figure that out right now. Obviously there's going to be major disruption. But to what degree we don't know yet. So I can't answer that. But obviously that is hugely important to everybody inside the National Park Service. It will be important to our contracts and of course it will be very important to all of you. Next slide, please. So that is the extent of our presentation. You have been putting some questions in the CHAT since I started talking. Tom is looking at those. If at the end of this presentation, you want to give us something in writing, we welcome that. And here is the email on the screen. Chisos Lodge underscore, comments@NPS.gov. And for you to, for us to consider your comments we need to receive them by 30 days from now, May 21. So with that, we will stop talking. And I will ask Tom who has been monitoring the CHAT to cue up questions. >> First of all, people love Debbie's voice. >> I've never heard that before. That's very funny. >> A number of questions about the big visible glass walls. Lots of glass. I think that picture you showed was pretty impressive. One question we have is, the outside dining area has a shed roof over it. How might that, or might not impact the view from inside the dining room. Any thoughts on that, Debbie? >> You know, I think that, when you're looking from the dining room, you're looking horizontally. And the view to the window is actually down somewhat. So I think you will still see some of that, the window view probably, you know, the tops of the mountains might be cut off from that. But if you think about the comfort of people who are out on the outdoor terrace where I think a lot of people will want to be, they will want that shade structure. A little bit of a compromise from the interior. But I think the overall good for the functionality. >> I will also point out, if you remember the slide that Debbie showed early on, the current dining room with two diners there. I should apologize for those people who didn't know I was taking their picture last week. One of the interesting things about the big glass wall we have now is the windows that are visible look through are six or eight feet tall. There's is no overhang and there's too much sun in that room. So the shade structure will also shade these windows. And then another schematic, if you remember the schematic of the modern dining room, the new dining room will be big enough that, while there are some people who look through the outdoor dining to look at the window, you'll also be able to look around it if you're sitting in another part of the dining room. And you'll have this great view to the south. And if you're on the east side of the dining room, you'll have a few of casa grande. Overall the views will be far more extensive than they are right now. >> There's concern about the effective large glass wall on birds. It's famous as a bird location. I know there are some methods that people use to avoid collisions with windows. I imagine some things like that might need to be used. But time may tell. Debbie, maybe you have thoughts on bird avoidance on large, glass walls. >> There are some interesting new products that are coming out for glazing that actually help birds recognize it as glazed so that they're not flying into it. So I think that's as, you know, one of the details, that as the project moves forward should be looked through more fully. >> I think that's a terrific point. We appreciate it. And so, you know, one of the interesting things about the way this is working is, as we've said this is the schematic and conceptional design. That's a point. And I encourage to write it to us. We will try to build -- or will build into the final canvas. Thank you for that. >> Let's see. More concerned about the glass walls. What sort of blinds or window coverings might be needed at certain times of the year? Definitely something to think about. I'm not sure if of a comment on that >> I think-- I'll try. You know, the overhang will be sufficient that I don't think coverings will be needed to shade the dining room. But that's something that I think in the final design we'll figure out. The dining room will be operated by a contracted hospitality company. And you know, if they choose to put up blinds, I suppose, they could. But we're trying to design it in a way that won't be necessary. If we take care of the bird friendly site in another way, then there shouldn't be blinds. >> The other thing I would add to that is that, the glazing itself will be designed to reduce solar heat gain. And you know, it could be tinted so that it is reducing as part of reducing solar heat gain so you don't need blinds. There were a lot of really interesting glazing products out there that can mitigate the problems that you see in a lot of older buildings. >> Bob, there's a question in here about something that was not touched upon. And that was perhaps work that's needed on some of the existing motel rooms. Would that be part of this project? So on and so forth? >> I wish I could say yes to that. Theres no question that there's a lot of needs in the Chisos basin that we have not talked about today. Our national office, some of you may have heard, deferred maintenance. The national office is interested in wherever possible using this great American outdoors and other parks to address the maintenance workload. The biggest workload here is the lodger itself. But if there's enough money in the $22 million budget, we have identified quite a few maintenance needs in the motel units themselves. But that would be one of those optional items that, if there's enough money, we will do. If not, the park will continue to seek funding for whatever source we can. And we didn't talk a lot about it. But we, Debbie did mention that the camper store will be removed. Those functions will be moved to the main building. There's an opportunity for pedestrian or plaza where the store is right now. Some of you may know the-- behind the store is the fire truck building. That's hidden right now. But that will end up sticking out like a sore thumb. One of the things we're going to do is once we identify exactly what the scope of the funded elements of this project are, we're going to step back and look and see what else is needed in the basin and identify those needs and involve the public in that conversation. And there is no direct link between planning and funding. But if you don't plan, you don't ask for the money, you never get it. So hopefully we will address those other needs. But they're not going to be-- [inaudible]. >> Bob and Debbie, there are a number of questions that refer to the transition. And you sort of mentioned that in the presentation. That's going to be challenging. And we don't have all those answers yet. People have asked, a variety of questions related to that such as where will people park during this time? Will we be able to reserve rooms? What will happen to the current restaurant staff during this time? And how long will there be no dining room? >> Well, I'll try to give you a few answers. But they're not really answers. We're still working on all of those things. I think the most important question to ask is what happens to the staff. And while I can't give you a guarantee, we are working very closely with our current concessioner. And this will be very important when we do a contract with the new concessioner that to the degree possible, jobs are not lost as a result of this. If the concessioner operates as many of you know, the Big Bend resorts, that's a fair amount of staff between the two of them. The concession contract will continue to operate, the gas stations and the other stores in the park as well as the RV park at Rio Grande. Unquestionably, some jobs will change during that period, but hopefully none will be lost. In terms of the motel and parking and the rest, there's a lot of space here in terms of the decision space. One of the things that we didn't talk about is, another big chunk of funding from the create American outdoors act coming to Big Bend National Park to replace almost all of the piping associated with potable water systems in the park including inside the basin. That is on essentially similar timeframe as this project. So under any scenario, there's going to be a massive amount of disruption and heavy vehicle traffic. So most likely, we will have to close the motel to the public. Obviously the restaurant can't operate in its current configuration during the transition. So the most severe scenario, I'm not predicting this is what we will do, will be to close the road to the basin and during at least the heavy construction period no driving up here. Hopefully people will understand it's to make it all better. And we want to make sure everything is safe when we do it. Another alternative when it's preferable would be to keep the campground open and perhaps even have some food trucks or food service in the campground. But undoubtedly the motel will have to be closed for some of the period, particularly when there's major demolition and major removal of pipes. You have to have a period where there's no water being provided either. One of the things we're discussing but it's all preliminary right now, would be to build into the contract for construction that the workers would stay at the lodge at the motel units. Obviously food would have to be provided by the lodge. And the that would be one way of maintaining workers and maintaining the economic livelihood of that company. There's a lot of unknowns, I acknowledge. We are incredibly concerned as you are. And we will be trying to work that through. And my expectation is, about the time that we go to contract which hopefully is September, we will have the answers to these questions. But we simply don't have them right now. >> There's a question related to the contract. You mentioned there will be a designed build contract. Will you explain about how those work and how those are advertised and who would be able to build on something like that? >> Let me ask Debbie to answer part of that because she knows better where design built contract is. And I'll take other parts of it. >> Okay, so in the design build contract, what happens is one-- a couple of different things. But the way this one is progressing is that one firm will design a schematic and outline all of the criteria for the project in a package that is then put out to bid for teams that include a contractor and an architect and all of the engineers. So you'll have a design build team then that will work together on the rest of the design and construction. And what the reason that people like doing that is because there's a lot more cost control while-- when you have the design team working directly with the contractor. >> It's also faster. And it is savings to the taxpayer in terms of what it will cost. And so the goal here is, and this is very commonly used in the private sector. It's not that common as yet in the public sector. But it's becoming more so. So I'll be honest. I don't know the full extent of the answer on who can bid. But this will be nationally advertised. I will tell you that. And there will be some obviously some fairly rigorous criteria by which companies will have to establish their credentials. The other thing that makes this complex but advantageous, I think, is we're going to combine the water pipe replacement project and the lodge project into one huge solicitation. And obviously, it's going to require a firm with a lot of diverse expertise or a lot of subcontractors. But this would require one company to be responsible for all the logistics and coordinating between the projects so they're not competing for space and time and money. >> Thank you. >> Let me also say that since the final design will not be in place when we write that contract, there will be numerous times before construction starts, before demolition starts where the park service will have to review and approve the designs. So we're not farming out the decisions. We will still make the ultimate decisions. And that's not simply the Big Bend staff. We don't have all the expertise. We have architecture, engineerings behind us. >> There are a couple of questions here that refer to protecting the resources of the park. One of them, how will the building be bear friendly in regards to food access and dumpsters and such things. And then the second one is how the dark sky frame will look. >> Well those are things that are built in right now. We have-- those are some of the criteria we established for Debbie and her firm. The bear issue, the most exciting part is that, the outdoor dining space will be on the second floor. We're going to make it so bears can't climb there. Ground based mammals will have a hard time getting there. And we will building into the concession's contract the trash cleaning sustainability factors. So cleaning up, making sure trash is well handled. The building can't do that. The building won't be-- that gets in the operation side. We make sure the contract with the future concessioner, whether it's the same people operating it now or a new company will build that in. Huge part of this project, it will be at least as dark as what we have now. There will also be a back up generator that will provide at least minimal amount of interior and path lighting in ways that we don't have right now. >> Um, the current concessionary receives food deliveries in large trucks. We've seen it going up and down the road in the basin. How will the new loading day accommodate larger vehicles? >> Well, it's, you know-- what's nice is that it will allow the vehicles to come down the hill and pull into the loading bay and be out of the traffic circulation into a much larger degree than it is currently. >> Okay. Um, of course it is a desert. But it does pour rain here sometimes. How's the building set up to deal with that type of weather? >> It's going to be a water tied enclosure. We haven't done anymore storm water capture or reuse at this point. Bob, that could be something we want to think about. Certainly we would have spouts and drainage and all of that. But where it's piped and how it's captured we should talk about more. It's a good comment. >> We're not there yet, but it's important. >> You mentioned during the your presentation that one of the possibilities for the future would be a renovated visitor center. How much of that or how much of that is not part of this project? >> The only part of the visitor center that is part of this project but it is going to be a bit option because we're concerned whether the project is affordable within the budget we have. The only part that is currently in there would be an expansion of the restrooms at the current visitor center. And that's really important. If it's not in this project, I'm confident we will be able to find a fund source. The visitor center dates in the 1980s. It's not a great building, but it's an okay building. It could use some work. And one of the things that we've had ARG do is identify what the possibilities would be. But that is not part of this project. And that's not because we don't want it to be, but because of funding limitations. That will be a starting point for when we enter into that planning process later. One of the things we identified with Tom and his staff are conscious of this, the visitor center does have a nice view of casa grande but no view of the window. The renovated visitor center someday would be -- it too has views in multiple centers. Behind the center is a loading dock for the camper store which will no longer be necessary. It's also the approach for our fire truck, emergency services. So we have a few ranger offices in there. One of our goals but it is not funded and it is not designed at this point would be to construct a new emergency services building in the basin but not in the upper basin. More down towards the park service housing area and the campground, tucked away where it's not terribly visible but close enough where it will be a short drive for an emergency vehicle and put the ranger officers in there. We're able to do those things, the visitor center in its -- can be opened up and used in different directions. The other thing we didn't mention. In the interpretive-- on the accessible walk way from the lower parking lot, there are going to be several landing places which will be intended for interpretive and orientation things. So right now, if you come to the basin when the visitor center is closed, there is some information outside the building but it's fairly limited. I think the future trend in visitor centers is more critical information outside the building available 24/7. And then inside the building might be more efficiently designed and, you know, for the interaction with the ranger but not necessarily the interpretive story you get right now. All that's a dream right now. And none of that is funded. >> We have a couple of questions for clarification. Confirmation that this does include the moving of the current camper store. Demolition of the camper store is part of the base project. The camper store function will be integrated into the main building. One of the efficiencies there right now there are two loading docks and two strong areas-- by combining those things it will be more efficient. And a combined lesser footprint than the two together. >> We received a comment about the potential of thermal water heating as an energy reduction alternative. Will it include something like that? >> I'm looking at the comment. And the commenter says, usually not cost effective. And that, you know, I'm not the expert. But that's true. Right now electric heating from solar is actually more efficient and involves way less plumbing that is likely to be a maintenance issue later than thermal water. So we did consider it but we're not going in that direction. >> There's a question about the parking lots. I think Debbie's diagrams did indicate that there were a few adjustments the parking circulation. Maybe comment on that a little bit as a possibility. >> There's kind of a minimal changes to the parking. We're making sort of a slight change to the entry road the way it comes in the curve for safety reasons. We're changing a few parking spaces for safety reasons, adding accessible parking near the visitor center and making a few other changes to pick up a few more spaces. So very minimal. The overall layout essentially stays the same. >> I have to acknowledge that you bring up great points, things that are needed in the basin. We agree with you. And as much as $22 million sounds like it is not stuff to do all the things we're talking about. We will continue to identify the needs and seek the funding to accomplish those needs. >> That pretty much sums up the questions that we had. Those were with all really good questions. It's been our scheduled time at this point. If there are any last questions that someone might want to throw out there, this would be an opportunity. I think there was a lot of positive comments. I think people were pretty surprised with the drawings. Pretty positive. I think overall there were a lot of feelings of nostalgia for the previous buildings but recognition that we can do better moving ahead into the next generation of park visitors. Question about the recording. Where will that be posted? I don't know for sure right now. We'll do a news release here over the next day or so and provide information that was gleaned from this presentation. And a link to the recording and probably the transcripts as well. >> So stay tuned. One last question, someone did ask about how they could donate. How they could support this type of project. Bob, what would be the best avenue for someone to do that? >> The park has a philanthropic partner known as the Big Bend conservancy. Tom maybe you can put your website in the CHAT. Terrific group. They are the ones responsible for raising the funds and essentially hiring the designer for the award winning fossil discovery exhibit. They're a terrific group and they're the fundraisers on behalf of the park. They have said, how can we help? And right now we said, we don't know. We don't know what is funded by the government and what is not. You know, I'm pretty confident that many of the ancillary things which will improve the visitor experience, wayside exhibits, some of the changing of the trail head layout things like that are probably not part of this funded project but will be very good things to a conservancy to invest in. If you're thinking about big bucks, let's talk and we'll figure out something that we can do with your money. Thank you for the generosity. And let me say, thank you very much to Debbie. You've been a terrific partner in this. And thank you for the fantastic work as well as a great presentation with the beautiful voice. Tom, thank you for hosting. And everyone who tuned in, this was our very first video public meeting. So we appreciate your patience with us. And your goodwill. And thank you. Stay tuned. We will keep you posted as we make the decisions. >> Special thanks to our sign language interpreter and caption interpreter. Wonderful. >> Thanks, everybody. >> All right. Thank you. All. It's my pleasure. >> Good evening.

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1 hour, 7 minutes, 10 seconds

Join Big Bend National Park Superintendent Bob Krumenaker, and Debbie Cooper, principal from Architectural Resources Group, for a special “first look” presentation on the current status and future possibilities for the Chisos Mountains Lodge.


This presentation also serves to notify the public of proposed changes to Lodge facilities under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. The National Park Service invites written comments on the Chisos Lodge replacement proposal.

Please submit comments via electronic mail to: ChisosLodge_Comments@nps.gov
Please note that to be considered, your comments must be received by May 21, 2022.


Chisos Mountains Lodge

Last updated: April 26, 2022

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Big Bend National Park, TX 79834-0129



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