Reconstruction of the Sperry Chalet in Glacier National Park will enter its second summer with a completion date set for Oct. 1.
Representatives of the National Park Service and contractor Dick Anderson Construction were in Helena on Monday to provide a construction update to the governor’s office and Montana Department of Commerce.
The dormitory of the iconic chalet burned in the 2017 Sprague fire after the blaze doubled in size and the handful of firefighters assigned to protect the building were outmatched amid a massive ember shower. Following the loss of the building, former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke requested $12 million in federal funds for reconstruction along with public fundraising of more than $750,000 to date.
Gov. Steve Bullock said Monday that Montana’s 2017 fire season, which set a record for cost, was also defined by how Montanans responded. The Sperry Chalet is an example of something that will not be remembered as tragic but rather through its reconstruction a place that will continue to provide memories long into the future, he said.
Glacier National Park Superintendent Jeff Mow said the loss of the chalet was akin to losing a relative for many who worked in park service.
“It was really that close to so many people,” he said, but officials have been touched at the public outpouring of support. “It’s not just the donations but the stories that come with the donations that are very compelling.”
Helena developer Dick Anderson was awarded the contract to rebuild the dormitory. He found many of his crew excited to work on the historic structure, and willing to hike in the 7 miles and 3,300 feet of elevation gain to spend last summer on the first phase of the project. That included about 360 helicopter transports of construction materials with a similar number planned for this summer.
Anderson compared reconstructing the chalet to previous work on the Montana Capitol and said there is a special pride taken when working on historic buildings.
Mow noted that private fundraising has played an important role in the speed with which the Park Service has tackled Sperry. While he did not have exact figures of private versus public dollars spent, tapping into private funds allowed officials to move quickly to stabilize the structure as well as meet needs such as feeding construction crews on-site. Going through a public appropriations process would have taken several weeks, he said, as the park service was at the end of its fiscal year.
“It’s really because of these philanthropic dollars we’ve kept this project on track,” he said.
While the park service works within its budget, Mow does not expect to approach spending the $12 million appropriated.
As officials considered how to rebuild the chalet, discussions ventured into whether to expand accommodations to include space for more overnight visitors. Ultimately, they felt too much would be lost with an expansion, specifically the often-touted chance to meet other hikers in the dining hall, Mow said.
Rebuilding the chalet in the image of the original was something Pete Brown, state historic preservation officer, agreed with.
“There is an experience there, we don’t want to make it more like other places, it’s not like other places and we need to keep it that way,” he said.
For this summer, the dining hall is open to visitors but the dormitory remains off-limits while construction continues toward the Oct. 1 tentative completion date.