WEST GLACIER — Stabilization efforts on the four stone walls that remain of the historic Sperry Chalet dormitory are expected to get underway in early October.
Engineers from a Missoula-based firm already have visited the structure that was heavily damaged by the Sprague fire on Aug. 31. DCI+BCE Engineers submitted its recommendations on what needs to be done to ensure the walls don’t collapse from this winter’s wind and snow.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recently announced that rebuilding the dormitory was one of his “top priorities.”
Outlying buildings including the kitchen, dining room and utility cabin survived the fire.
For the dormitory to stand a chance of being rebuilt, a park historic preservation crew will have to win the race against upcoming winter conditions to brace the walls with a series of large beams and plywood.
Glacier Park spokesperson Lauren Alley said materials already are being gathered that will be used by a 10-person crew to stabilize the walls. Those materials will be transported by helicopter to the site of the chalet, located at about 6,500 feet in elevation.
“We have to be able to protect those walls from both the wind and being pushed sideways by this winter’s snowfall,” Alley said. “October is our window for getting that work accomplished.”
The interior floors and roof were completely burned out, which greatly destabilized the exterior rock walls built in 1914 by rock masons employed by the Great Northern Railroad.
Plans call for using more than 100 6-by-6-inch, 16-foot beams to brace the walls. Plywood and more beams will be used to provide strength to the gables and chimney of the structure.
The materials list was being developed last week.
“All of this work right now is contingent on when we can get a helicopter to move the materials to the site,” Alley said. “All of it needs to happen before we get significant snowfall.”
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The park so far has received $18,500 from the park service's regional office to help pay for the stabilization.
Much of the funding is expected to come from private donations collected by the Glacier National Park Conservancy.
The conservancy has set a $90,000 fundraising goal to help pay for the stabilization, engineering assessment and materials needed to complete the project before winter. So far, those fundraising efforts have collected $58,445.
The Conservancy’s Amy Dempster said the philanthropic organization that raises money for a variety of projects in Glacier Park started receiving inquiries about the Sperry Chalet right after the fire.
Donors have said that Sperry Chalet held a special place in their hearts and they hope someday to be able to visit it again to relive that experience.
The Conservancy and Glacier Park expedited a grant process to quickly obtain the funding needed to get an engineering report on the damaged structure, Dempster said.
“With the weather changing, we knew that the work needed to be accomplished quickly,” Dempster said.
The future of the chalet remains cloudy.
Dempster said engineers won't be able to determine if the structure can be saved and rebuilt until next spring. But one thing is for certain. If the stabilization work isn’t completed before the snow begins pile up against the now fragile walls, that opportunity could be lost forever.
If people are interested in donating to the effort to stabilize the Sperry Chalet, they can go to the Conservancy’s “Support the Sperry Chalet” webpage at glacier.org.
“We know that there are still a lot of steps to go before it can be rebuilt,” Dempster said. “This is just the first step that needs to happen before we can develop a long-term plan for Sperry Chalet. We’re really thrilled to be part of that.”