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Dinosaurs Roam Utah County, Quantum Builds Museum

Sat February 12, 2000 - West Edition
Alicia Blater

Dinosaurs will soon return to the land they once called home. The North American Museum of Ancient Life (NAMAL), currently under construction in Lehi, UT, will become on of the largest dinosaur museums in North America when it opens early in the summer of 2000.

To get an idea of just how large this museum will be, picture a 747 and two 727 airliners parked inside with room to spare. The NAMAL was quite an undertaking, and a dream of several individuals for many years. Even the general contractor, UT-based Quantum Construction and Development Co., did more than just commit to build the museum; it bought into the project and became a principal with Thanksgiving Point Development Co. and Western Paleontological Laboratories Inc.

The $20-million facility will be completed in two phases. The first phase will complete the total 10,980 square-meter (122,000 sq. ft.) building and includes a special exhibit hall, a 350-seat, 49- by 66-foot screen Iwerks Theater, cafe, concessions area, gift shop and natural history art gallery.

Phase two, scheduled to open in summer 2001, encompasses the actual exhibits and will feature the largest exhibit of ancient life ever assembled, including the longest mounted dinosaur on the planet — a 110-foot long Supersaurus, and a 45-foot tall Ultrasauros. At completion, the museum will house 50 mounted and standing dinosaurs and hundreds of land, sea and air fossils.

“This museum will have the most displayed dinosaurs in the world,” said David Wanamaker, NAMAL marketing director. “Several of the dinosaurs we will exhibit have never been displayed to the general public before. We will have a number of these rare dinosaurs that only experts and people in the field have had an opportunity to see.”

The goal of the museum’s planners was to create an authentic experience where visitors will be able to walk among the dinosaurs in surroundings that would have been natural to when these dinosaurs were alive. Entering the museum will feel like walking into a cave and being surrounded by rustic rockwork.

Creating this experience came about through extensive research and input from Western Paleontological Laboratories of Orem and a unique architectural design from KMA Architects of Provo. The exterior design features prominent large-scale relief of dinosaurs adorning the high walls that face Interstate 15. These larger-than-life dinosaurs are being made from a new product that will actually become part of the exterior.

To accommodate the changing exhibits and extremely large displays, the museum is equivalent to a six-story building although there will actually be only two above ground levels. The museum also includes a basement that wasn’t originally in the plans.

“Extreme soil conditions made it so we had to include a basement for structural purposes,” said Project Manager Lisa Smith. “We’re still ahead of schedule and the basement may actually help access floor panels and electrical equipment.”

Utah’s soil condition varies by area, but the soil in this part of Utah County has a particularly high clay content. R.A. McKell Excavation of Orem used its 17 years of local excavation experience to know the project would require importing a lot of structural fill. This granular fill was put under the footings, although it added more than 20 percent to the cost of the excavation contract. Total excavation of about 30,400 cubic meters (40,000 cu. yds.) continues to be used over the course of the project for surface soil and backfill.

Another challenge facing the project was severe wind. A few workdays were cut short for those working with the crane due to the wind. “The safety precautions alone are pretty extensive, but we’re extra careful since we know the precautions of this area,” said Smith. The wind levels also necessitated the building to be built heavier than usual with a wider expanse exterior wall facing the usual wind direction.

The challenges have been minimal and seem a small price to pay for those deeply committed to the project. Quantum Construction and Development got involved with Thanksgiving Point about two years ago when it began to build roads into the facility. Quantum then helped the attraction expand as it built a golf clubhouse and have been hired to begin a business park on the property.

“It’s been a lot of fun to be involved with Thanksgiving Point. The draw in the joint attraction between the museum and their gardens and other attractions is good,” said Smith. “It’s been a fantastic project for me as a project manager. One of those life experiences I guess.”

Approximately 30 subcontractors have been hired to work on the museum.

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