RTA Cuts the Ribbon of the new PIkes Peak Summit Visitor Center

There were smiles for miles as we celebrated the ribbon-cutting of the new Pikes Peak Summit Visitor Center along with hundredes of guests, City of Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, and Governor Jared Polis. Site work and finishing touches on the incredible exhibit space will continue over the summer, so be sure to check back for more updates!

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Beyond the Blueprints: Construction Administrator Don McReynolds

Welcome to Beyond the Blueprints, where we get to know RTA staff beyond their work lives. Join us in discovering the passions and interests of our amazing team!


When did you first begin woodworking? Did someone teach you?

I’ve always built or made stuff with my hands as long as I can remember. I probably got started working with wood in the early 80’s, primarily as a hobby. I never really did much beyond building small projects for friends and family. My dad was a trained and educated as an artist. Being raised by a single mother I did not spend much time with my Dad until I was out of college. That is when I started spending my vacation with him. We would draw and paint all the time when we were together. My dad specialized in Western/Indian themed art, so that’s the art I did at the time.

In ’96, when my dad passed away, I inherited his carving tools: power carvers, bits, knives, and chesils which I always wanted to do, but could not afford it. Being busy with work (farming) it took me about a year before I started to experiment with the tools. That Christmas my mother gave me a book on carving and since I had more time in the winter, that’s when I started experimenting and carving birds. I think that is when my love for birds started influencing my art and I’ve been doing it ever sense.


How did you choose to start carving birds?

I’ve always been interested in birds; I think they are one of God’s greatest creations. Think about it, they fly! I just think they are fascinating and beautiful.

Tell me more about your photography-birding habit?

Photography started as need for reference photos for my carving. While hiking and taking pictures of birds, I got into taking photos of butterflies because those are around when you are looking for birds, and then that led into learning about plants, and knowing what kind of plants that attract birds and butterflies during the year, it’s a vicious circle. It got to a point where I would go hiking every weekend (spring to fall)- I call it hiking but it is really birding; a lot of stop and go. I love it so much that when I travel and I’m not in a rush, I look for parks and hiking trail so I can go birding.

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And you use those photos for reference?

Yes – mainly for referencing colors, poses, feather layout, and habitat. Before I start a carving, I research different profiles and colors. When I enter a contest, I produce everything myself except the eyes. So, the mount, legs, feet, everything I have to manufacture myself and I need those photos to get it right. It takes a while. I normally spend anywhere between 100-150 hours on a carving. The carvings are always to the same size as the actual bird.

What tools do you use?

I do the rough out mainly with knives, because it’s more fun and I can get a good idea of the overall proportion of the carving by roughing it out in my hands. Knives and rasps get me the general body shape, then I’ll use power carvers to smooth and refine the shape. I have a Gesswin power carver that uses diamond carving bits which I use to get the final refinement of the sculpture. Then I use detail knives to cut out feather and feather groups and then the tedious work begins by using wood burners to create the feathers shaft and barbs. When the sculpture is finished, I normally paint it with multiple washes of acrylic paint, but I have used oil paint also.


How would you describe your style?

I’m a realist. I have done some stylized carvings but, I just don’t enjoy them as much. I like the detail and accuracy of realism, it’s more fun to make them look real and to try to duplicate what God has done.

What do you love the most woodworking as a hobby?

It relaxes me, even with all the tedious detail work, research, painting schemes, and the precision. The focus really helps me unwind. It can relax me so well that if I have a hard time going to sleep, I can literally imagine burning in feathers on a sculpture and that will actually help me go to sleep.

What are the competitions you have entered? Have you won anything?

The first competition was right after I moved to Colorado. I didn’t know much about them or which level to enter into. I knew I would not go into the advanced level. The rules typically say if you never won anything you go in beginners and if you have won two or three first place prizes, you go into intermediate. Well, I had never won anything before so for my first competition, I put in three birds and a stylized buffalo I had carved and painted to look like a bronze into the intermediate class. I won three firsts and one second, so I automatically jumped into advance after my first competition! There’re only four competitions here in the state, one here in Colorado Springs, one in Denver, and one in Loveland. I’ve also entered national competitions, primarily through Woodcraft Stores. For those, you send your carving in and then it gets judged and then sent back. For that I have I sent in full bodied cinnamon teal hen, and it won second. I also did a competition through Wildfowl Carving Magazine. They have a competition you enter by sending photos.


What is your favorite piece and why?

I saw that question and I knew it was going to be hard to answer. The one I will probably never sell is the first duck carving I ever did of a pintail hen. Now, it’s a nice piece, and pretty well done, but it’s not even close to the type of work I do now. I think it just has that place in my heart of being the first one I ever did.

What resource would you recommend for anyone interested in getting started?

Just pick up a book, I’m really self-taught. My mother gave me a book by Bruce Burk “Game Bird Carving” which I reference often. There are all sorts of books on carving wildfowl or bird carvings. Another good idea is to find someone who is willing to spend some time with you showing how it is done. If anyone is interested, I’ll help anyone who wants to learn.

Groundbreaking for Cherry Creek Schools New Elementary School

We were so excited to celebrate the groundbreaking of Cherry Creek School District's new elementary school #45 with the District, community members, and JHL Constructors! 

The new elementary school will serve approximately 650 students and promote innovative thinking and problem solving skills with a maker space, Gym-a-torium with a performance stage and competitive size basketball court, indoor-outdoor dining spaces, an art room, library, and age-appropriate learning communities. Read more about this exciting project here! 

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Pikes Peak Summit Visitor Center Announces Grand Opening

Exhibits, donuts, and views... oh my! The long-awaited opening of the new Pikes Peak Summit Visitor Center is almost here and will open June 24th with a grand opening ribbon-cutting June 30th. Read more here.

Pikes Peak Visitor Center Opens June 24, 2021

2021 High School Architecture Class

The 2021 High School Architecture Class is in the books, and we want to thank and congratulate all the students who participated in this unique hybrid experience. We also want to give a big shout out to Architect Mitchell Starrs who was this year’s Class Champion and to Emerging Professional Tyler Wurr and Intern Alli Geradot who volunteered to make the 2021 class possible.

We hope this quote sums up the program for future students, “I wanted to thank you and the other group leaders for providing such a dope program for free!! I have wanted to specialize in Architecture ever since I was 12, so I am really thankful for this cool experience! There is no other way to describe how cool I think this whole profession is.” 

We can’t wait to see what the High School Architecture class of 2022 will bring!

Peak MOB at Parker Adventist Hospital Opens

It was a beautiful blue-sky day to celebrate with Parker Adventist Hospital and local officials for the ribbon-cutting of the new Peak Medical Office Building. Each floor of the four-story MOB specifically designed for various practitioners such as Oncology, OBGYN, Neurosurgery, Ear Nose and Throat, and Gastroenterology specialists among others. Nurse workstations and staff break rooms are strategically located throughout the building to take advantage of daylighting and to provide respite and spaces for collaboration.

Read more about the new Peak MOB here.

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Pikes Peak Summit Visitor Center Featured in Civil Engineering Source

Building design at 14,000 feet comes with many challenges, not the least of which are those involving materials and geotechnical conditions. In a recent article by The American Society of Civil Engineers' Civil Engineering Source, RTA Principal Stuart Coppedge, GWWO Architects Principal Alan Reed, HCDA Principal Steve Horner (structural engineering), and William Hoffmann Jr., senior engineering consultant for CTL Thompson, Inc. (geotechnical engineering), discuss how the Pikes Peak Summit Visitor Center design team handled everything from the effect of the extreme altitude on the concrete placement to protecting the summit’s fragile tundra ecosystem during design and construction.

Read the full article here!

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RTA's Senior Marketing Manager Valerie Jackson Named SMPS Colorado 2020-2021 Marketer of the Year

RTA Architects’ Senior Marketing Manager Valerie Jackson, MBA was recognized by SMPS Colorado as its Marketer of the Year, one of the chapter’s highest honors, at the annual Marketing Excellence Awards. SMPS is the only organization dedicated to creating business opportunities in the A/E/C industry. SMPS Colorado was founded in 1983 and is one of the Top 5 Chapters nationwide. Marketer of the Year is awarded to the chapter member who stands out in the craft of marketing and communications in the A/E/C industry and has made significant contributions toward promotion professionalism. Valerie has served on the chapter’s Southern Colorado Committee since 2015 in multiple leadership roles including Committee Co-Chair and Committee Sponsorship Champion.

Valerie joined RTA Architects in 2015 after receiving her Master of Business Administration degree with a concentration in Marketing from the University of Colorado Colorado Springs (UCCS) and a 25-year career that previously spanned the consumer services and technology sectors. She also holds a Bachelor of Science degree with a concentration in Marketing from Pennsylvania State University. More information about the SMPS Colorado Marketing Excellence Awards can be found on the chapter’s website, https://www.smpscolorado.org/marketing-excellence-awards. Our congratulations to Valerie on the well-deserved recognition!

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Five Weeks to Meet a COVID-19 Challenge: High-Performing Design-Build Team Delivers Alternate Care Facility at St. Mary-Corwin Medical Center

In the latest issue of The Colorado Real Estate Journal's Health Care and Senior Living Quarterly, RTA Principal Paul Reu discusses how the high-performing design-build team of M. A. Mortenson Company and RTA Architects met an unprecedented COVID pandemic challenge and delivered an Alternate Care Facility in just five weeks at St. Mary-Corwin Medical Center in Pueblo, Colorado.

Read the article here! 

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Design-Thinking Framework in Action: Chinook Trail Middle School Provides Healthy Positive Spaces

A recent article by Chinook Trail Middle School Principal Tom Andrew and RTA Principal Brian Calhoun for EdMarket Essentials discusses how the school’s design – top to bottom, inside and outside – supports an open, holistic, positive approach to learning in healthful and empowering ways for students and staff. The three Design Priorities of positive spaces, building and site optimization for learning, and a connection to nature work with the educational program to develop curious design-thinking learners for life.

Read the full article here.

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