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Delicate Touch

One of the nation's premier hotels retains its five-star status after an 'invisible' renovation effort

October 01, 2003 |

Architecturally designed to conform to the landscape of the Pikes Peak region, The Broadmoor includes the best features of many famous European resort hotels, and affords every convenience and luxury that could be desired by the most fastidious. Yet, size and prodigality were not the objects sought. Rather, the owners have planned to make The Broadmoor quiet and home-like, rich in little touches of refinement and beauty.

That's the description the Broadmoor founder and mining millionaire Spencer Penrose sent to travel agents and private clubs across the country when the hotel opened in 1918. Since that time, the Colorado Springs, Colo., landmark has not only maintained its luxury character, but has set the standard as one of the few resorts in the country to have earned the Mobil Five Star and the AAA Five Diamond ratings every year since the awards were established.

Upholding the Broadmoor's rich tradition while also upgrading the facility to accommodate today's traveler was the challenge put to the Building Team responsible for the hotel's recent $25 million renovation, which received a Grand Award in Building Design & Construction's 20th Annual Reconstruction Awards.

"When you have a property that sets the bar for all that follow, you need to be cautious with any change," says Gregory Friesen, principal and design director with project architect CSNA Architects, Colorado Springs. "This hotel is one where guests come back year after year expecting the same elegant experience, and we didn't want to harm that tradition."

Originally, the resort opened with a nine-story, 109-room main hotel and four attached wings: the 16-room Northmoor wing; the 29-room Southmoor wing; the 27-room Northlake wing; and the 20-room Southlake wing. Over the years, the Broadmoor's facilities have been expanded with additional meeting rooms, recreational amenities, and new hotel buildings that added 500 guestrooms. However, the original main hotel and its wings underwent only cosmetic renovations, such as the replacement of carpeting and paint.

"The rooms were designed with large closets and small bathrooms to accommodate those travelers with large steamer trunks and gowns who intended to stay a month or two," says John Goodloe, project architect with CSNA. "People don't travel that way anymore and are looking for larger rooms with five-fixture bathrooms."

It was time for a revival — not only to appease the changing tastes of the modern traveler, but also to comply with current building codes. The project, which is part of a five-year capital improvement plan developed by the Broadmoor's resort consultant, TAG Galyean, involved the complete renovation of the main hotel, the Northmoor wing, and the Southmoor wing.

In total, the building area covered approximately 230,000 sq. ft., contained 154 guestrooms, and included the two public-level floors in the main hotel and the main entrance to the hotel.

"Preserving the integrity of the hotel's historic character was priority one," says Friesen. That dictate was top of mind while the team upgraded all the guest rooms with five-fixture bathrooms, inserted two new stair towers and a new elevator core from foundations to roof, and installed all new HVAC, plumbing, fire alarm, fire protection, and security systems. "Oh, and we did this all in just 27 weeks," says Friesen.

A cautious crew

The cautious seldom err, and the Broadmoor Building Team was nothing if not cautious. They couldn't afford not to be with the hotel closing with a full house on October 22, 2001, and reopening to a booked house on May 1, 2002.

"In actuality, we had less than 27 weeks, considering that when the clock started ticking we still needed to remove those items that make it a five-star hotel and properly store them before we could begin demolition," says Ron Wilson, project superintendent with general contractor M.A. Mortenson, Denver. "Then, once the reconstruction was complete, we needed to replace those robes and pillows before the hotel reopened."

In addition to the time constraints, demolition and reconstruction activity could not interfere with the rest of the hotel, which remained open and operational throughout the life of the project.

During the schematic designs of the renovation of the main hotel, CSNA Architects identified that the Broadmoor would lose 23 rooms as a result of the upgrades. With the hotel committed to a 750-room cap, a new facility was needed.

"The result is that we split the project into two phases, first constructing a new hotel building on the site of an old pool to accommodate the needed rooms," says Friesen. This extra space also enabled the Building Team to relocate some of the offices and a reception desk that were housed in the main hotel to the new facility and to other buildings on the property during the renovation.

To accelerate the design approval process, the Building Team and the Colorado Springs building department established a process for streamlining plan reviews. "At the time this project was underway, reviews could take up to 14 weeks. This process enabled us to turn around reviews in six to eight weeks," says Goodloe. He says this "rapid response" system is not instituted lightly. The last time this system was used was in 2000, when Intel built its nearby manufacturing facility. "It really is a testament to how important the Broadmoor Hotel is to the Colorado Springs community," he says.

To help speed the city inspection process, the owner hired an independent building code official who was a past director of the building department's commercial division. "Considering the speed of the project, it was unimaginable that we could give the building department a 48-hour lead time to inspect and review an item that needed to go up that day," says Friesen.

Constructing the past

The first part of the project was like a delicate mining exercise, says Wilson. Nearly 60% of the building, including all of the guestrooms, was demolished down to the concrete structure to make room for 132 larger guestrooms and updated public and service areas.

"At one point, you could walk in and see from one masonry exterior wall to another — you would never guess this was a hotel," says Goodloe.

For several weeks a continuous stream of dump trucks moved away debris. Below this demolition activity sat two ornate ballrooms, which were carefully monitored to prevent ceiling cracks from the equipment loads and vibrations above. "We photographed and cataloged every square foot of that ceiling to identify preexisting cracks, so that if new cracks did appear, we could shore those areas immediately," says Terry McHale, director of facilities for the hotel.

Members of the Building Team were on site every day to make certain that problems could be resolved immediately.

"Like any reconstruction project, original drawings aren't what you'd consider accurate," says Scott Beck, principal with structural engineer Anderson & Hastings, Denver. For example, while the concrete frame structure with flat-plate floor system was sound, the team discovered during excavation that the existing footings they believed would support the new elevator cores and stairwells weren't where they expected them to be.

"We needed to react to that right away," says Wilson. He organized crews to hand-dig new caissons and construct new walls to support the stairs and elevators.

Goodloe says the success of the project is evident in the admiration of guests who are convinced that the project just "freshened up" the facility instead of reconstructing it. "On opening day, you could hear a tour of senior citizens convinced that the stairwells and elevators had always been there, not understanding all the work that had gone into the project," he says.

Many of the improvements are invisible thanks to some creative use of service tunnels underneath the hotel to run new piping and a unique roof solution. Before the renovation, the main hotel's roof was cluttered with antennae and other equipment. To eliminate this obstruction from guests' mountain views, the Building Team lowered the roof in that section in order to accommodate the new elevator, HVAC, plumbing, fire alarm, fire protection, and security systems.

Also unnoticed by guests are new custom windows, Italian marble flooring, and vertical fan coil units to heat and cool the rooms, which replace through-wall units that hung on the outside of the building.

"Nearly everything is new, from the new plaster moldings and woodwork to the restored historic artwork and murals," says David Fritz, principal with interior designer Design Studio Interiors, Castle Rock, Colo. "But everyone sees it as 'The Broadmoor Experience.' It's what they expect."

A noticeable difference for guests is the Terrace Bar, which underwent a $1 million renovation. Murals on the walls depict the true story of how Penrose lured prominent hotel executives and journalists to the hotel with a two-week visit, full of polo matches and plane races. Correspondence following these two weeks read like a five-star review, with some attendees reporting that their stay was the best two weeks of their lives.

"This group of people proved very important, in fact the entire hotel rating system has its roots in this society," says Fritz.

Just as that group of influential people carried stellar reviews of the Broadmoor around the globe, so do visitors today. "Even though we've had some of the hottest, most grueling days this past year, we've heard not one complaint, only raves," says McHale.

Celebrating its 85th anniversary in June, it's certain the Broadmoor is in line for another 85 years as the home-like hotel with little touches of refinement and beauty.

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