A Update on the Planning for a New Lodge

This update is excerpted and summarized from the Executive Director’s Report to the Mountain Board of Trustees dated March 31, 2019.

 

This is a photo of an earlier rendering of the New Lodge that has been posted in the Commons at The Mountain.

 

A decision was made to develop the proposed “New Lodge” concept in 2016:

To build a 3-story building–approximately 28 ft. x 48 ft.–with at least 7 double guest rooms, bathrooms, kitchen, meeting/dining room seating for 30, with restrooms, meeting/lounge loft, and two observation/gathering decks.

The middle and upper levels are accessible via bridges from the Lodge’s lower and upper floors. The appearance would generally match the current aesthetic of the Lodge and the Observation Tower: board on batten, wrapped with decks and balconies.

The question been asked, why a new Lodge?

The reason to build a new Lodge is simply about preparing for our future. The Mountain has had a turbulent 40 years. For much of its time The Mountain has been significantly in debt, and in Oct 2010 we were just weeks away from bankruptcy and closure. The last 9 years our community has not let The Mountain fail. We’ve worked from crisis to crisis, then to surviving, and now a tender stability. Now is the time to create a bold and sustainable business plan to carry us forward.

To find the core of our business model we must ask and answer some difficult questions:

What will The Mountain be in 2030? A camp? Learning center? Retreat? All three?

Will we be open year-round, partial year, or summer seasonal?

 What will be our revenue streams, and what type and size of groups will we host?

 Will we continue to host non-UU groups to provide our margin funding so we can so we maintain reduced prices for our mission?

 What can (or could) our occupancy capacity be?  

The prevailing questions and obstacles concerning the addition of a new building are many. Our sales revenue has been flat, the improvement of the current facilities is still not complete, and the variables in our occupancy rate and quality of service. All are valid points that deserve thoughtful answers.

Current status of the New Lodge Project:

  • The Board of Trustees has made a declaration that we will not take out a loan or go into debt for new construction.
  • The Board of Trustees has ONLY approved designing the building to gain a clear understanding on the construction cost. Cost information is key to deciding if the project would be feasible.
  • David Zenner’s firm is designing the building, with LEED certification help from South Face Inc.
  • $125,000 has been donated to green new construction with another 100,000 pledged.
  • $55,000 has been allocated and approved to peruse the designing of the building and securing South Face consultation services.
  • The Board has stated we would not build until we have the money in hand to pay for the new construction.
  • The Board of Trustees has approved the pursuit of a capital campaign and is in the beginning stages of forming a capital campaign committee.
  • The Board has NOT approved what project (s) the capital campaign would specifically fund.
  • An ad hoc energy reduction committee has formed and is identifying, planning and fixing energy issues

 Background Information:

Most of our buildings date back to Camp Highlander in the 1950’s when Ben and Polly Wax built much of the infrastructure we have today. Our newest building, the Lodge, will be 30 years old in 2021. Our oldest building, the ASCENDER cabin, dates back to the 1920’s.

 

The Catalyst for the New Lodge Vision:

The origin of the New Lodge started with a $25,000 gift from Gay Spirit Visions (GSV) celebrating their 25th anniversary at The Mountain. GSV asked us to work on one of two issues, our registration software or increase premium housing spaces. Before the board, staff and GSV landed on the concept of building a new lodge we discussed increasing housing spaces through fixing ASCENDER, building yurts, or placing prefab housing where cabin 5 once sat.

It was determined that there were two major issues with building yurts or placing prefab housing on the Cabin 5 site. Neither one would significantly increase the amount of sleeping spaces, and neither one would fit with the appearance of the current aesthetic of the Lodge and other buildings. The issue with refurbishing the ASCENDER building was the age, damage and extent of prior remodeling. We determined the most practical opinion would be a complete tear-down and rebuild of the ASCENDER house.

Since the property is owned by SFGC and managed by Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust, we felt that investing in building on our own property would be a better decision. Although a complete rebuild of ASCENDER would cost less money, it would only provide a minimal increase in beds (currently sleeps 13) and not have the flexibility of an additional meeting space and kitchen.

Challenges:

The challenges for building a New Lodge are real and significant.  Among the Board and stakeholders there is doubt that new construction is needed or viable. The doubts center around three things: revenue, occupancy rates and facility care.  As noted in the table below our sales revenue has been flat over the past five years. There is a $63K difference between the high and low revenue mark.

Final Thoughts:

During the past 9 years we’ve transitioned our business from surviving to stabilizing. As a community we’ve systematically improved all aspects of our center. During that time, we’ve made difficult decisions and taken calculated risks with the focus of becoming an exemplary retreat and learning center. We’ve decided it is time to start a 3-6-year capital campaign process, meaning that a new building may not break ground until 2025. The plan should not be an either/or plan. It should be a both plan—to build a new building and continue to improve our current facilities as we are raising the funds to accomplish the projects.

If you have comments or ideas regarding this vision, concept, or rationale for the proposed New Lodge, contact Ted Wisniewski, Executive Director.