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Miami Eyes Huge Tourist Draw With $300M Museum

The Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science has been described as the most elaborate project being built in Miami.

Mon March 02, 2015 - Southeast Edition
Cindy Riley

Located along breezy Biscayne Bay in downtown Miami, the $300 million Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science will feature an aquarium, planetarium, interactive exhibits and hands-on activities when it opens in summer 2016. The 250,000 sq. ft. (23,225.8 sq m) waterfront building, funded in part by a $165 million general obligation bond, has been described as the most elaborate project being built in Miami.

“Construction is advancing quickly,” said Frank Steslow, museum COO. “The museum has always been a community-led initiative to excite and educate greater Miami and its global visitors. It will enrich the lives of south Floridians and visitors by offering in-depth learning experiences and bring the best global resources to south Florida, creating a link between the education, tourism and business communities.”

In 2012, more than 300 people turned out for the official groundbreaking, including Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, city Mayor Tomas Regalado and donors Patricia and Phillip Frost. The new building is expected to attract more than 700,000 visitors to the city during its first year of opening, and an additional 600,000 visitors annually moving forward.

Currently halfway through construction, the museum will offer interactive exhibitions in an energy-efficient indoor-outdoor facility.

“Most notably, the Living Core will be a marvel in itself,” said Steslow. “The multi-level experience will showcase five South Florida ecosystems, which include the Everglades, the Mangroves, the Florida Reef, the Sandy Shores and the Gulf Stream, while allowing visitors to meet real scientists, encounter native animals and explore marine ecosystems at different depths.

“Within the Living Core is the 500,000-gallon, three-story Gulf Stream tank aquarium. Also, the museum’s planetarium will be one of the most sophisticated in the world, offering an immersive multi-media experience, which will allow guests to journey in space, the depth of the oceans, the Everglades, through the human body and more.”

The setting for the new building also is worth noting, according to Steslow.

“Over the past few years, downtown Miami has transformed into a destination with an emerging arts and culture scene and an influx of development,” said Steslow. “At the center of it all is Museum Park, home to our new facility, which was an integral part of the entire Museum Park plan from the very beginning. The idea of Museum Park was to have two cultural institutions anchoring the green space in an open park, providing a place where locals and visitors can enjoy the indoor art, culture and science, as well as the beautiful nature that surrounds them.

“The museum will have panoramic views of beautiful Biscayne Bay and will be clearly visible to the four million cruise-liner passengers who pass through the port of Miami each year. Maximizing our waterfront site with plenty of sunlight and prevailing breezes, the building will offer indoor and outdoor experiences along with exceptional views.”

Construction is moving steadily toward completion. The pre-cast concrete panels have been installed on the exterior of the building, and topping off of the planetarium is well on its way and the concrete for the Gulf Stream tank has been poured.

“It’s quite thrilling to see the new museum take shape,” said Steslow. “It’s extremely exciting to be on site and see the activity. There’s always a lot happening, with the museum reaching key construction milestones as we progress.

“We have two of the world’s largest and most experienced construction firms, Skanska USA and Hill International, managing the project, with more than 150 construction workers on site every day,” said Steslow. Overall, it’s an honor for us to be a part of downtown Miami’s ever-changing cultural landscape.”

Steslow said the project marked significant achievements.

“The Gulf Stream tank, the aquarium’s centerpiece, is one of the most significant achievements in architectural design, and one whose shape has never been done before. Complex in its conical shape, inclination and suspension, as well as a 30-foot diameter oculus window at the bottom of the basin, the shape is energy-efficient and ideal for sharks as there are no sharp corners, maximizing the cruising surface while reducing the amount of water. It’s not just the view that’s great.”

The Gulf Stream tank was recently completed. Building it required perfectly-timed engineering.

“During the foundation pour, a crew of 150 people worked non-stop for 24 hours, 48 minutes and 59 straight seconds, to place over 1,200 cubic yards of concrete, making up more than 9,000 square feet of tank surface area, filling the walls of the massive cone-shaped tank and marking the museum’s biggest milestone in construction to date,” said Steslow. “Once completed, visitors will encounter a 100-foot open surface of the tank vessel to catch glimpses of marine creatures such as hammerhead sharks and tunas.”

To date, massive amounts of shoring and formwork have been erected at the construction site. Groundwork included the installation of more than 370 tons (335 t) of epoxy coated steel reinforcement, intertwined by 57 pipes containing more than 700 high strength post tensioning cables that generate more than 14,000 tons (12,700 t) of compression force into the concrete to prevent cracking when poured.

According to Andy Allen, project director of Skanska USA Building, work is well under way.

“We are finishing the constructional structure of the four buildings. We’re also completing the breezeways between the buildings and the roof and deck structure in the core building, which will house the aquarium, aviary and reptile exhibits. The dome for the planetarium that will stand four stories tall is also under construction right now. You can actually see the pieces being set in place from the expressway,” said Allen.

“The foundations and parking garage are complete, we are getting the site utilities installed, and about 90 percent of the concrete structure is finished. Additionally, we have also completed installation of the architectural pre-cast concrete panels that serve as the outside walls of the exhibit halls. These panels have a decorative finish that is a major element of the building’s iconic appearance.”

The building structure, the breezeways, the building enclosures, the planetarium and Living Core roof have yet to be completed. Next is the installation of the interior finishes, including the painting, flooring, doors and hardware, installation of the air conditioning and plumbing systems, light fixtures and the electrical work. Work remains on various exhibits, from the displays, the sound system in the planetarium, the aquarium and reptile tanks, as well as the aviary.

“The challenges are twofold,” said Allen, “as we are building a project that is aimed to be highly aesthetic and functional. Our Skanska team has to pay close attention to the way all the elements tie together, from the way the building looks to the way the windows line up, because the museum is an exhibit in itself.

“As a high-design and complex project, the museum is very different than your typical commercial construction project. It takes a team that understands the intent of the designer, as there are many unique elements, such as the aquarium and the planetarium, that require great technique to build. For example, the Gulf Stream aquarium tank is designed so museum visitors can walk under it and look into it.”

Allen said communication with the design team is essential.

“We are constantly having conversations with the design and architecture team to determine how all the pieces need to fit together. As a centerpiece of the project, the 500,000-gallon saltwater aquarium requires using a consistent concrete mixture in order to get the desired architectural and smooth finishes because it’s visible from the exterior.”

The museum will demonstrate best practices that support energy conservation and independence. The building will meet the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards for energy use, waste management, and environmental impact, creating a new model for museum design worldwide.

“When building a project that is pursuing LEED certification at the highest level, we have to be very careful to ensure we are managing our resources properly, maximizing site recycling efforts, and selecting products that are sustainable to ensure construction is complying with LEED certification,” said Allen.

“It takes a delicate balance of the project’s high design needs with the LEED aspirations, as we need to use certain materials and equipment that meets LEED requirements. To achieve this goal, we work closely in collaboration with the project’s ownership, our construction team and all subcontractors on site.”

Designed by Grimshaw Architects, the museum will harness energy from water, sun, wind and even museum visitors to power exhibits and conserve resources. Solar panels will be installed on the roofs to produce electricity that will help power some of the exhibits and electrical systems of the property.

The museum’s energy center will provide a central location for monitoring the data streams related to the “green” building’s performance, from water consumption to the amount of renewable energy generated onsite. Various exhibits will explore emerging technologies, and the adjacent outdoor energy playground will provide youngsters with educational opportunities, helping them learn about the planet’s resources. Other museum features include the Knight Learning Center, the Innovation Center, a cafe, a 10,000 sq. ft. (929 sq m) traveling gallery for special exhibitions and an exploration center.

Allen said a variety of heavy equipment is being utilized during construction.

“We are using two large tower cranes to lift materials to locations on the job as we build the concrete structure frame, and a hydraulic crane that weighs 500 tons to install the pre-cast concrete panels that are 20 feet by 40 feet. The hydraulic crane we have onsite is one of only a handful of cranes that size in the entire country.

“We are using several lulls to transport and lift materials into the building. There are also numerous pallet jacks to lift materials. In the future, we will have some construction equipment on the work site to complete the civil and landscaping scopes, including bobcats, backhoe loaders, rollers and compactors.

Materials used on the site include 4,228 tons (3,835 t) of rebar, 10,000 lbs. (4,535.9 kg) of post tensioning cables in the Gulf Stream tank, 23,707 cu. yds. (18, 125.3 cu m) of concrete and 574 precast pieces that weigh a total of 3,995,935 lbs. (1,812525.6 kg)

Regarding the full dome 3-D planetarium, construction techniques had to be carefully mapped out to avoid any missteps.

“Building a dome structure of these unique specifications requires careful attention to structural design details, coordination with the structural engineering team and constant communication and collaboration with all the team members participating in the construction,” Allen said. “Once finished, our goal is to deliver a state-of-the-art museum that will give visitors a complete experience immersion in every exhibit and innovative feature of the museum.”

The three-story building is located east of Biscayne Boulevard, south of I-395 between the new Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts and the American Airlines Arena in downtown Miami. Museum Park is accessible via the downtown Miami Metromover system, which connects with the countywide Metrorail and Metrobus transit systems.

The museum, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution and member of the Association of Science and Technology Centers, is funded with the support of the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs and Cultural Affairs Council, the Miami-Dade County Mayor and Board of County Commissioners.

“We currently have more than $90 million in philanthropic commitments toward the museum’s private fundraising goal of $135 million. These private dollars will complement Miami-Dade County’s $165 million funding,” said Steslow. “The new museum will provide a superlative experience that honors the community’s trust and investment.”

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