Paradise Inn And Visitors Center

Story by Carl Molesworth | September 28, 2010

There's no trouble in Paradise this summer, just a lot of construction work at the most popular visitor destination in Mount Rainier National Park.

Located on the south flank of Mount Rainier at 5,400 feet elevation, Paradise greets tourists from around the world with spectacular sub-alpine meadows, miles of hiking trails, and gorgeous views of Mount Rainier, glaciers and the Tatoosh Range. The classic Paradise Inn, which was built in 1916–17, and the much newer Henry M. JacksonVisitors Center serve many thousands of visitors each year.

But the ravages of time and the harsh winter weather, plus seismic considerations, take a toll on the structures. As a result, John Korsmo Construction Inc., based in Tacoma, and Watts Constructors of Novato, Calif., are jointly completing historical renovations and preservation of Paradise Inn and building a new Paradise Visitors Center for the National Park Service. The architect was Fletcher Farr Ayotte Architects, and KPFF Consulting Engineers provided civil engineering.

The Watts Constructors/Korsmo joint venture brings together two complimentary construction companies to build the National Park Service's largest current project. Korsmo Construction has a strong local presence and necessary relationships and experience for the project, while Watts Constructors brings a solid track record of working with the National Park Service and its unique requirements. Both companies had also completed previous projects on Mount Rainier and had the necessary experience for the harsh construction climate.

"We're very excited to be selected for this project," said John Korsmo, Jr., president of Korsmo Construction. "It's an icon of the Pacific Northwest and an important national treasure."

Work on the $40-million project began in June 2006 and is due to be completed in fall 2008. When the new visitors' center opens in the upper parking lot next to Paradise Inn, the 40-year-old Jackson visitors center will be demolished and the lower parking lot will be reconfigured.

Rebuilding the Inn

The project is actually two distinctly different efforts — restoration of the inn and new construction of the visitors center — taking place simultaneously and on essentially the same job site, said Jeff Robison, superintendent for Korsmo Construction.

In 1996, he said, Paradise Inn was found to be at risk of catastrophic failure within 10 years. Great care is being taken to restore the building — which features 118 guest rooms, the Paradise Inn Dining Room, the Glacier Lounge and a gift shop — as closely as possible to its original appearance while also greatly increasing its ability to withstand seismic activity.

"The Park Service historians have had a significant impact on the project," Robison observed. "They are actually pretty good people to work with."

Architect Frederick Heath designed the inn in 1915, using native building materials including cedar shingles, native rock and weathered timbers salvaged from a fire in 1885. The inn opened on July 1, 1917 and cost between $90,000 and $100,000.

The original building is two stories tall. Two rooms, the great hall and the dining room, take up most of the ground floor. A three-story section on the building's east side makes the building a T-shape and contains additional guest rooms. In 1920 the four-story Paradise Annex was added. It contained 100 rooms, 85 with private baths.

The great hall measures 50 feet by 112 feet and has a wrap-around mezzanine level. There is a 4-foot-by-6-foot stone fireplace at each end of the room. The dining room is 51 feet by 105 feet and has a 50-foot-high stone fireplace. The original guest rooms are above the dining room and are only 8 by 8 feet. Each one fits between a set of rafters that support the roof.

The scope of work includes stabilizing and rebuilding the foundation, cleaning and rebuilding the three historic 90-foot chimneys, a complete modernization of seven guest rooms to ADA accessibility standards, and reroofing with cedar shingles.

Robison said work on the fireplaces and chimneys began with the removal and cataloging of each stone using CAD drawings. Then spread footings, concrete shear walls, fire boxes and post-tensioned chimney cores were constructed before the stones were reassembled in their original positions.

Another key element of the work is the replacement of the buttress logs. A previous remodel in the 1980s replaced the original Alaska yellow cedar logs with Douglas fir logs, but these have not held up and are reverting to Alaska yellow cedar. The building originally was set on rocks, which are deteriorating. So as the logs are replaced, the rocks are excavated and replaced by CDF lean mix and spread footings, Robison said. The buttress logs are replaced every other one at a time to maintain lateral stability, he added.

Inside the inn, a new floor is being installed of Douglas fir for historical accuracy.

Lifting the East Wing

Over the years the entire east wing had shifted out of plumb, so an important element of the project has been the effort to stand it back up straight. Over a period of about four months, the crew from subcontractor Robbins & Co. Housemoving Inc. did a series of lifts and pulls to shift the structure 7 degrees to 8 degrees back to vertical.

"When you have 90 years of lean in the building, you get accumulations under the studs," Robison said. "But it has a memory of where it wants to be."

To jog that memory, the Robbins crew would lift the building about 3 inches with 16 hydraulic jacks pushing on steel I-beams. Then, using tension cables and come-alongs, they would pull the building toward the north, let it sit and pull again. Tension gauges measured movement. Eventually, the building shifted 6 inches to 8 inches and back into plumb, Robison said.

A limited amount of work is going into the 1920 annex to strengthen it. There, a new spread footing and a shear wall up all four stories was built into one end of the structure.

Because of the remote location of the project, the project team decided they would mix their own concrete on-site, using two volumetric mixers, a silo and additives as required.

Robison said Korsmo is handling about 90 percent of the construction on the project, while Watts is providing senior management and is managing the site and civil work.

New Visitors Center

The architects designed the new visitors center to complement the look of the inn. At 22,000 square feet, it will be about one-third the size of the Jackson center, but a more efficient layout will allow it to handle an equal number of visitors.

Features include a great hall, café, theater, bookstore/gift shop, several elevators, and restrooms.

The soil on the site of the visitors center was found to be unsuitable to build on, requiring excavation tobedrock. When excavation began in June 2006, archeologists were on hand to check for artifacts. Though they found no evidence of Native American activity on the site, they did find parts of an old lodge from the early park.

The structure combines concrete piers with board form finish and CMU infill walls, plus glulam beams and steel trusses. Robison said a 200-ton mobile crane will be brought in soon to lift the trusses, which weigh 40,000 pounds each. The glulam beams are stored on the site in tents to protect them from the weather.

The construction team worked straight through last winter, despite bitter cold temperatures and a flood that closed the road for several weeks, forcing workers to hike into the job site. They plan to do the same this year in order to finish the job on time.

Robison said the crews should be able to work inside both buildings all winter.

"We're working seven days a week to get it buttoned up before the weather turns," he added.

Robison said the crews have to be especially careful to avoid frostbite and slipping on the "treacherous" job site in the wintertime. Despite the hazards of working on the mountain in the winter, as of mid-July the project had recorded 49,000 work hours without a reportable injury.

And when next summer comes and the project is completed, visitors will find Paradise an even better destination than it was before.


Key Project Participants

Owner — U.S. Department of the Interior

Architect — Fletcher Farr Ayotte Inc., Portland

Contractor — Watts-Korsmo Construction JV, Tacoma

Plumbing demo research, sheet metal — Cornell Plumbing, Tacoma

Demolition for remodeling — Ascendent LLC, Bonney Lake, Wash.

Raising, leveling and shoring — Robbins & Co. Housemoving inc., Burien, Wash.

Masonry — Keystone Masonry Inc., Yelm, Wash.

Structural steel — Corona Steel Inc., Lakewood, Wash.

Earthwork — Civilworks NW Inc., Vancouver, Wash.

Shotcrete — Johnson Western Gunite Co., Seattle

Log construction — Live Edge Woodworks, Clinton, Wash.

Cedar shake roof — Tile Technology Roofing Co., Tacoma

Wallboard — D.L. Henrickson Co. Inc., Tacoma

Paints and coatings — Todd Robinson Painting Inc., Tumwater, Wash.

Electrical — Danard Electric Inc., Tacoma