The Army’s new high-altitude research laboratory at the top of Pikes Peak in Cascade, Colorado, was officially completed on July 1, and is the highest facility of its kind in North America.
Built by members from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District’s Ft. Carson Resident Office team for the U.S. Army Research Institute for Environmental Medicine, this new lab will greatly enhance research to optimize Soldiers’ health and strengthen today’s warfighter.
Due to limited building space on Pikes Peak design engineers decided to build the new lab adjacent to, and at the same time as construction of the new Pikes Peak summit complex. The 3000-square-foot research facility shares a common wall with the summit complex and stands at an altitude of 14,111 feet, more than two-and-a-half miles above sea level.
This modern, steel and concrete structure has a solid footing ten feet deep and can withstand extreme cold and winds of up to 200 miles per hour. In addition, it was designed to be self-sustaining, standalone building and can accommodate 10 Soldiers for several weeks at a time.
Doug Foster, project engineer, contracting officer representative, Ft. Carson Resident office, is a native of Colorado and has climbed Pikes Peak numerous times. He said that this is, “one of the most exciting engineering projects” he has ever been involved with.
“I have a real attachment to Pikes Peak and have fallen in love with this project. What an honor to be able to work up here and to be a part of this HARL project,” Foster said. “There were hardships and logistical issues that had to be overcome to build it and it gives me great personal satisfaction.”
Foster added that to the best of his knowledge there has never been a facility built like this before at this elevation.
USARIEM began conducting high-altitude research in the early 1960s. This new facility replaced an existing lab that had been in use since 1969 and the new laboratory is 300 square feet larger.
According to USARIEM research physiologist Roy Salgado, Ph.D., unacclimated individuals traveling to high-altitude are at risk for acute mountain sickness.
“It takes longer for an individual to complete an endurance-type task like running or hiking, when compared to sea level. We plan to study how people adapt and thus tolerate high-altitude,” Salgado said. “We also plan to examine ways in which we can help individuals better tolerate high-altitude before traveling to high mountainous area. This has military relevance given that a Servicemember may be asked to deploy to high mountainous terrain.”
He added that there are many people throughout the world who travel to high-altitude locations for work, sports competition, and recreation, and that the knowledge gained from USARIEM’s research efforts can also be applied to those populations.
Instead of building on the old footprint, USACE teamed up with the city of Colorado Springs to build the HARL in conjunction with the new summit complex center. Both facilities were completed at approximately the same time.
“This facility was designed to be used year-round. It has a large kitchen area, isolated sleeping quarters and a large exercise area and research laboratory” Foster said. “One of the most challenging aspects of this project was the elevation and working at 14,000 feet –not to mention the snow that can happen any time of the year. We’ve had a couple bad snowstorms in July and August that shut down work.”
Foster has been involved with the HARL project since its conception in 2011 as a member of the research and design team. Actual construction began in June of 2018 and despite the challenges of elevation, logistics and rapidly changing weather conditions, the project was finish on schedule at a cost of $7.2 million.
Foster said that the success of this project was due to the efforts of the entire team, including the Omaha District, Fort Carson resident office team, Rocky Mountain Area team, and the architectural firm and construction contractors.
“We’re extremely fortunate to have our high-altitude research facility located at the Summit of Pikes Peak,” Salgado said. “We thank the hard-work and efforts of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District, GE Johnson, Health Facility Planning Agency, U.S. Forestry Service, Pikes Peak-America’s Mountain and the many other individuals who have helped to make this happen.”
Due to pandemic concerns, USARIEM postponed the August ribbon cutting ceremony until the summer of 2022.