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Reopening of Summit House delayed until spring

Stone mason Jeff Marion builds a wall for the pad of a new picnic area behind the Mount Holyoke Summit House in Skinner State Park on Monday. The Summit House and surrounding grounds are undergoing renovations to make them handicapped accessible. A portion of the Connecticut River separating South Hadley and Holyoke can be seen on the horizon.
KEVIN GUTTING

Stone mason Jeff Marion builds a wall for the pad of a new picnic area behind the Mount Holyoke Summit House in Skinner State Park on Monday. The Summit House and surrounding grounds are undergoing renovations to make them handicapped accessible. A portion of the Connecticut River separating South Hadley and Holyoke can be seen on the horizon. KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

Construction delays at the Mount Holyoke Range Summit House are again pushing back the historic landmark’s reopening date.

This month marks the second time unexpected construction issues have stymied the scenic destination’s reopening to the public.

In June, S.J. Port, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, said work on the house would wrap up in September and the house would be open to the public sometime in October. While the access route and the mountain range remain open, the Summit House has been closed to the public since May 2011.

Port said construction completion is now being held up by a problem with the paint. The Summit House is now projected to reopen in the spring of 2013, she said.

“It is an issue with paint adherence — the moisture level in the wood product may be too high, meaning that paint will peel off of it immediately,” Port said in an email to the Gazette.

Merle Buckhout, who chairs the Mount Holyoke Range Advisory Committee, said the parks department had planned to reopen Summit House for Veterans Day, Sunday, but that was cancelled.

“They’re still working on it. I don’t know if they’ll be finished before the cold weather,” Buckhout said. “They were supposed to be done in October, actually they were supposed to be done in October of last year, so precisely where they are in all of this, I don’t know.”

Port said because the delay is “on the contractor,” she does not anticipate it will increase the project’s $950,000 price tag.

“It is not a structural issue, but DCR wants to get it done right for the opening,” Port wrote. “We’re investigating the situation with our architect, a specialist and in cooperation with the contractor.”

The DCR has long planned safety and accessibility improvements to the former hotel, which serves as a meeting place and hiking destination featuring a panoramic view of the Valley.

The state hired Westfield Construction Co. Inc. as general contractor and Clark and Green Inc. of Great Barrington as the architect to overhaul the aging house and popular outdoors area.

Improvements are to include a new access road, repairs to the Summit House’s deteriorated porch, construction of a handicapped-accessible Z-shaped ramp on the south side of the building, widening and stabilizing the driveway, and the addition of two handicapped-accessible parking spaces as well as making the bathrooms and picnic areas accessible.

Construction was supposed to get underway in the summer of 2011, but a botched bidding process and a funding miscalculation forced the DCR to rebid the project and wait for this year’s construction season to begin work.

This delay, coupled with the discovery of underground ledge at a much higher level than anticipated and the decision to add painting to the work order, pushed the project’s price tag up by $350,000, from $600,000 in 2011 to $950,000 in 2012.

While the Holyoke Mountain Range remains open, construction is causing periodic interruptions to summit area access. Summit Road is sometimes closed.

The access route’s normal hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Closings are announced on the park’s answering machine, 586-0350, and at the DCR website.

Buckhout said she hopes work on the Summit House can be completed before the snow starts to pile up.

“Whenever we have company, one of the first things we do is take them up the mountain, and we haven’t been able to do that for two years,” she said.

“I assume they want to finish soon, but if it’s not now then it will be in the spring. I’d love to see it finished and open again. ... Right now, we’re in a holding pattern.”

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