Another shot at constructing Old Faithful Visitor Center

[Thursday, March 13, 2008] The National Park Service has announced that a contract has been awarded to build the new Old Faithful Visitor Education Center to CTA Architects Engineers of Billings, Montana and Swank Enterprises of Montana, builders of the recently opened Canyon Visitor Education Center. Groundbreaking for the two-story, 26,000 square foot, $27 million building is set for May 2008.

As the number of visitors to Old Faithful Visitor Center climbed into the millions during the 1980’s and 90’s, it became obvious that something needed to be done about the small, outdated building. The quest for a new visitor center began, more or less, in 1999 with a proposal for a building of 43,000 square feet. That design was quashed on review for being too large to maintain historical preservation. A new design of 37,000 square feet was submitted. About that point, the Yellowstone Park Foundation stepped in to overcome federal budget limitations with a pledge to raise $15 million of the cost, which it did between 2000 and 2005. By that time a new version was in play: 33,000 square feet and $26 million. Construction was scheduled to begin in spring of 2006, but ran afoul of a problematic bidding process (only one firm submitted a bid). The 2007 version came in at 28,000 square feet and $24 million. That too failed to get off the ground. The version for 2008, is fully funded, designed, and now contracted. We hope.

The old Old Faithful Visitor Center, built for the “Mission 66” program in 1968-1970, was torn down to make room for the new center on the same site, and a ‘temporary’ visitor center hastily erected nearby. The new center, OFVEC, as it is abbreviated in voluminous reports, illustrates the difficulty in designing, funding, and constructing big, multipurpose, ‘state of the art (green)’ buildings in environmentally sensitive and historically sacred locations.

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