Aspen City Council approved a $448,320 contract Monday with a historic-preservation-focused architecture firm that will plan a multimillion-dollar restoration project involving the exterior and mechanical systems of the Wheeler Opera House.
Princeton, N.J.-based Mills and Schnoering Architects will lead the design team that will conceive of specific plans for restoration work on the 130-year-old building’s exterior sandstone, masonry, cornices and windows. Other tasks included in the scope of services the city is buying include designing a new alleyway parking lot, load-out door and internal freight elevator; designing a new snow-melted sidewalk in front of the building; designing roof and drainage upgrades; completing an evaluation and recommending upgrades for all of the building’s mechanical systems while ensuring electrical loads can support the new freight elevator and stage systems; and addressing water infiltration issues that are causing odors in the basement interior space.
The city has budgeted $2.27 million for the completed Wheeler exterior renovations and infrastructure improvements project. After paying Mills and Schnoering and for a 2018 study that evaluated the façade, stone and brick integrity, the remaining funds available to the project come to just over $1.5 million.
The bid submission packet that won the job for Mills and Schnoering notes the firm’s extensive work on historic and theater buildings around the nation, as well as its local experience working on restoration projects at Aspen Community Church and the Paepcke Auditorium building on the Aspen Institute campus.
The firm has also worked on the Wheeler Opera House before.
“In 2009, at the request of the city of Aspen, we evaluated the exterior condition of the Wheeler Opera House and provided the city with a memorandum that outlined our findings,” says a letter in the packet from firm partner Michael R. Schnoering. “Conditions have worsened since that time, but we are thoroughly familiar with the building and the range of issues present.”
Subcontractors on the design team include Aspen-based BendonAdams, which will represent the project in the land use approval process, which will be overseen by the city’s Historic Preservation Commission and staff; Carbondale-based KL&A Engineers & Builders, who will focus on structural engineering; Greenwood Village-based IMEG Corporation, for mechanical, electrical, fire protection engineering; and Boulder-based Built Environment Evolution.
The Wheeler is the beneficiary of a 0.5 percent real estate transfer tax that supports the building's maintenance and upkeep. A multi-phase project to upgrade the interior of the building wrapped up a few years ago.