‘Public safety hazard’ closes Summit House — again

  • The Summit House in Hadley's Skinner State Park, which is closed while the building's fire alarm is updated. —DUSTY CHRISTENSEN

  • The Summit House in Hadley's J.A. Skinner State Park is closed while the building's fire alarm is updated. —DUSTY CHRISTENSEN

  • The panoramic view from the Summit House's porch, as seen on Thursday, July 6, 2017. The historic building, located in Hadley's J.A. Skinner State Park, is closed while the fire alarm is updated. —DUSTY CHRISTENSEN

Published: 7/6/2017 7:08:02 PM

HADLEY — Mount Holyoke Summit House in J.A. Skinner State Park is closed yet again, though the annual Summit House Sunset Concert Series will continue as scheduled.

The historic building’s summer opening was delayed because of a “public safety hazard” involving the building’s fire alarm, according to the state Department of Conservation and Recreation. The Summit House was closed from 2010 to 2014 due to delays involving structural deficiencies in the building’s porch, and again last summer because of fire suppression upgrades and repairs.

During preparations for the summer, DCR staff learned that the building was not in compliance with fire code requirements, and in early May the agency decided to push the opening back indefinitely.

“Specifically, the building’s security alarm system is functioning under the fire suppression system rather than a separate fire alarm system, as fire code requires,” DCR Press Secretary Mark Steffen wrote the Gazette. “The building’s sprinkler system and fire alarm system are still operational in the event of a fire.”

The latest closure has confused some, given that the summer’s concerts will go on as planned.

“We saw it was closed, but we didn’t know if it was closed closed,” said Amherst resident Bernard Brennan, 76, as he looked out over the Valley from the Summit House’s porch on Thursday. “What is it?”

As it turns out, the building is “closed closed,” though the law does allow for a simple workaround that will ensure it is open for the popular concert series, which began Thursday night with a sold-out crowd on hand to see local fiddler Zoë Darrow.

Hadley Fire Chief Michael Spanknebel said the building’s alarm currently doesn’t alert his department when there is a fire. For that reason, a “fire watch” approved by Spanknebel will be on duty during the concerts — in this case, employees of the DCR’s Bureau of Forest Fire Control, who Spanknebel said are as qualified as any firefighter.

“It’s just a precaution to ensure everyone is safe there,” he said. The fire watch will be ready to use fire extinguishers and to phone the fire department in case there is any emergency. “The priority is for them to call 911.”

The same precautions were taken last summer, according to Dave Meuser of the Friends of the Mount Holyoke Range, which has organized the concert series for some 30 years. The concerts will take place on five consecutive Thursdays, with doors opening at 6 p.m. and music beginning at 7 p.m.

In addition to Darrow, this year’s acts include The Pioneer Valley Fiddlers, Englewinds Eco-Music Ensemble, The Wistaria String Quartet and Libro Azul Latin Jazz Quintet.

“It’s always been local musicians that have played,” Meuser said. “I’m hoping to get people dancing; we’re going to have room for that.”

However, it is still unclear when, or if, the Summit House will officially open this summer. The historic building, which was built in 1851, boasts breathtaking views of the Connecticut River Valley, making it a popular destination for hikers and tourists.

“At this time park staff are consulting with the agency’s engineering team regarding repairs, which the agency is hoping to accomplish later this summer,” Steffen, the DCR press secretary, wrote in a statement. “However, no timetable is currently available.”

That wasn’t surprising to Brennan, who learned the news when he saw “closed” signs posted at the Summit House on Thursday.

“Every time I have been here it wasn’t open,” he said.

Despite the persistent closings, Spanknebel praised DCR for quickly addressing necessary updates on an old building.

“This is a capital improvement that they’ve been very proactive working on,” he said. “The Fire Department and the town are 100 percent behind them.”

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.


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