Aquarium Expands on Banks of Tennessee River

Tue June 08, 2004 - Southeast Edition
Cynthia W. Wright

Sharks, stingray, eel and a number of other sea creatures will soon be living large in the Tennessee Aquarium’s new $30 million tank and environs.

The aquarium tells the story of the Tennessee River, following the journey of one raindrop beginning high in the Cove Forest in the Appalachian Mountains as it flows to the Gulf of Mexico. Crews started building the aquarium’s newest building, which sits 75 ft. east of the original structure, in April 2003. It will be a natural extension of the river’s story.

The expansion, capped by a peaked glass roof, will allow natural sunlight to stream through the wall of windows, showcasing the Tennessee River and mountains beyond.

Architects Chermayeff, Sollogub & Poole Inc., based in Boston, designed the structure. Roger Conley of Turner Universal, a subsidiary of Turner Construction, is the project manager.

“We’re almost finished topping the building out,” Conley said. “Over the next few months, as we wrap it up, we’ll be working inside [the structure] at the same time.”

Inside, crews are constructing a saltwater shark tank, which, explained Conley, will have boundaries that won’t be discernable.

“It will have 30 cast acrylic viewing windows,” he said. “The largest is 28 feet tall and 12 inches thick. The windows are fabricated well in advance of the concrete work. The concrete construction tolerances are extremely tight and must be exact for those windows to be installed effectively. It’s extremely precise work.”

Conley’s crews number 100 people who work on average six days a week.

Conley noted the largest piece of equipment on site is a Manitowoc 4100 crane.

Tight spaces on the job site have not deterred crews from pumping concrete two to three days a week, said Larry West of Nichols Concrete Equipment. “With all the other construction ongoing at the Riverfront Parkway plus existing structures and the bridge on the other side, it’s a challenge. We have enough equipment of different sizes to handle all the needs, so those deterrents haven’t slowed us down.”

West said when his crews can’t pour the concrete out of a ready-mix truck, they have trucks available that will reach from 60 to 176 ft.

“That dumps the concrete into the back of a hopper,” he said. “Then we have a radio-controlled boom operated by someone who places the concrete. [He] will call us, and we’ll go over and walk the site to see what’s the best piece of equipment to do the proper job.”

Once the tank is complete, species will be collected.

“In late June, we’ll have a contractor begin building the coral reef for the tank,” noted Conley. “In addition, we have three large concrete reservoirs we built into the ground under the building. We’ll move water into those tanks, filter it extensively, then pump it into the big tank. When everything is in permanent operation, they’ll backwash the sand filters then use water from those reservoirs to replenish the tank water that’s lost during the backwash.”

Stocking a tank of this size is not like dropping a goldfish into a bowl, said Katrina Craven, aquarium spokeswoman. “Our curator of fish will assign someone, probably our collection coordinator, to do some shark collection. Sharks will be brought directly to us on the back of a flatbed truck in a specially constructed tank....The environment, the temperature, oxygen and salt levels are strictly controlled.”