Wheeler Opera House project an 80-ton stone’s throw from being complete
Scaffolding planned to be removed from historic building’s east side later this month
The scaffolding that shrouds the Wheeler Opera House’s east side is scheduled to come down beginning at the end of next week after being up for a year.
“It will be the first reveal of that side of the building,” said Rob Schober, the city’s capital asset director.
The remaining scaffolding on the south side of the building will stay in place through mid-November and more work on the Wheeler’s façade on the north and west sides will continue beyond that.
The $2 million masonry project was supposed to be completed this past spring but is delayed due to the extent of the damage of the peach blow sandstone quarried in the 1880s in the Fryingpan Valley, and is the original material used for the 132-year-old building.
Another challenge is a shortage of the stone needed to finish the work, as well as a lack of workers in the quarry in Wyoming, according to Schober.
“It’s kind of the way the construction industry is right now with labor shortages,” he said Thursday.
Aspen City Council earlier this month approved a nearly $127,000 change order to acquire an additional 80 tons of stone to finish the project.
The quarry is the only one that the project team was able to find that could supply the specific stone in the color and make up that matched the building, Schober told council at its Aug. 10 meeting.
The historic architect, Katherine Frey of Mills and Schnoering Architects LLC, along with the project team, selected the stone through an extensive process of testing and mockups.
Summit Sealants and Restoration, which is overseeing the project, bid the quantity of stone needed based on the contract scope and their professional experience with similar projects, according to Schober.
However, the quarry is not producing the yield of quality stone per ton that they had assumed in their original order. That’s because the stone has natural fissures and cracks that are reducing the amount of quality, carvable stone per ton.
“This, as well as the investigative process that has occurred as the team has preserved each area of the façade, has led to the need for an additional 80 tons of stone to be delivered to the stone carvers,” Schober wrote in a memo to council. “The current market and health concerns has the quarry operating with a skeleton crew and only operating per order. The quarry will be reopened for the balance of the stone and ship the 80 tons through the month of August for the team to complete the project.”
Jake Holland, president of Summit Sealants and Restoration, said the stone is being distributed in Grand Junction and Salida at two carving stations, the latter of which will be transported in pickup trucks over Independence Pass, which avoids the Glenwood Canyon I-70 closures due to mudslides.
Once the scaffolding is removed from the Mill Street side of the building, there will still be work to be done in replacing large pieces weighing as much as 1,900 pounds that will be hoisted by a lift.
The sidewalk on the Mill Street side of the building will be intermittently closed to allow the stones to be lifted, which will impact outdoor dining for Aspen Public House and access to neighboring Valley Fine Art.
The city has forgiven the rent for those two tenants in the building since the project began, which is collectively around $200,000 and is revenue that funds the city’s arts and culture grants for area nonprofits.
That rent relief has been back filled by the city’s general fund.
The original project schedule, which was planned to be phased in 2021 and 2022, was accelerated since COVID-19 shuttered the Wheeler Opera House operations due to the pandemic.
The project schedule last year was to complete as much work as possible on the east side of the building before Christmas. It was planned to demobilize before the holiday season with a re-mobilization in the spring to complete the remaining work.
Concerning the latest delay, city staff and the project team had looked at several other options, including delaying the completion of the project until the spring.
But the project would require extensive work to winterize the unfinished project and extensive costs to remobilize the scaffolding, Schober said.
Meanwhile, the rubble coming off the building and excess material from stone being cut onsite potentially will be reused by the city’s parks and recreation department.
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