The Oregon Caves Chateau may still look good as it approaches octogenarian status, but Uncle Sam says it's starting to feel its age.

The Oregon Caves Chateau may still look good as it approaches octogenarian status, but Uncle Sam says it's starting to feel its age.

Concerned about safety issues, antiquated electrical and plumbing systems as well as accessibility for those in wheelchairs, the National Park Service is considering improvements to the chateau to ensure visitor safety and building preservation.

"We are just starting the process that will include improving safety and access while preserving history — it's kind of a juggling act," explained Vicki Snitzler, superintendent of Oregon Caves National Monument.

All work on the chateau would be done under the auspices of both the National Historic Preservation Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, she said.

The agency has launched a 30-day public comment period on its initial proposal to make improvements to the chateau. The deadline is May 21.

The monument is in the Siskiyou Mountains at about 4,000 feet elevation roughly 20 miles east of Cave Junction.

Completed on May 15, 1934, the six-story, 10-sided, 23-room Oregon Caves Chateau is a national historic landmark whose interior electrical and plumbing systems are largely original, she said.

The chateau has been reroofed, she said. And there have been incremental upgrades, including an improved boiler.

"But a lot of things like the piping is original," she added, noting those systems have exceeded their service lives.

In fact, the wastewater system has failed in the past, causing damage to the structure, she said.

Although the building has both fire detection and fire suppression systems in place, the coverage is limited, she said. Moreover, exits also need to be brought up to contemporary safety standards, she added.

The work would include installing an elevator, accessibility ramps and emergency exit routes, she said. Other work could include replacing interior wood fiber, ceiling and wall finishes.

If the agency moves forward with the proposal, the earliest it could begin would be 2016, she said.

An open house to learn more about the proposed project and provide comments will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, May 12, at the chateau. During the open house, agency staff will collect both oral and written comments.

That is also the day when the park service annually offers free tours of the caves on a first-come, first-served basis. The free tours will be from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. that day.

Comments can be sent electronically to parkplanning.nps.gov/ORCA or through regular mail to Snitzler at Oregon Caves National Monument, 1900 Caves Highway, Cave Junction, OR 97523.

Despite the work that needs to be done, the chateau is fairly well preserved, Snitzler said.

"Considering it was built in 1934, it is still in good shape," she said, noting that is particularly true of the foundation and the structural integrity.

"Even the bark siding is holding up well after all these years," she said, referring to the coat of shaggy Port Orford cedar bark applied by its builders, members of the Civilian Conservation Corps.

The chateau is constructed of huge post-and-beam log framing on marble bedrock. Inside is a massive stone fireplace, along with oak-slab stairs and gnarled handrails fashioned from local hardwoods.

The caves were discovered by Williams resident Elijah J. Davidson while bear hunting in fall 1874. President Taft declared Oregon Caves a national monument on July 12, 1909, making it the first in the state.

Considered a fine example of "rustic architecture," the chateau was designed by Grants Pass architect Gust Lium. Built with the financing of 10 Grants Pass business leaders as a tourist destination, the building was designated a national historic landmark in 1987.

In keeping with the rustic atmosphere, there are no TVs or telephones in the rooms.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email pfattig@mailtribune.com.