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National Maritime Museum Sets Sail in Mobile

Fri January 21, 2011 - Southeast Edition
Mary Reed

One of the latest educational establishments to be built in the United States, the $36 million National Maritime Museum of the Gulf of Mexico, formally known as GulfQuest, is under construction in Mobile, Ala., on the Gulf of Mexico.

Dedicated to the celebration of the historic, cultural and economic significance of the Gulf Coast’s seafaring traditions, the 90,000 sq. ft. (8,363 sq m) museum will be only the third maritime museum in the world featuring largely interactive exhibits. Described by Gov. Bob Riley as a “signature project” for southern Alabama, the museum is a partnership of GulfQuest and the city of Mobile. The museum is slated to open in late 2012.

Although the project began in the mid-1990s with the formation of a non-profit organization to run it, it was not until 2000 that the city announced that the museum would form the centerpiece of its Mobile Landing project. This downtown 12-acre development features a cruise ship terminal and a convention center, among other amenities.

Groundbreaking took place on April 9, 2009. The museum building is shaped like a ship with its prow pointing to Mobile Bay, and the event was therefore adapted from the traditional keel-laying ceremony when the keel, the first part of a ship to be built, is laid in its construction cradle. In this instance, attending dignitaries, which included Gov. Riley and Jack Dunnigan, assistant administrator of NOAA’s Ocean Service, signed a faux steel plate which will be displayed in the museum. On real vessels, signed steel plates are welded to the hull when the ship is completed.

Mobile-based Vance McCown Construction Company Inc., is currently carrying out deep foundation work for the museum. This part of the overall project carries a price tag of $2.7 million, funded by a federal grant with a matching contribution from the city of Mobile.

“Vance McCown Construction is the general contractor for the deep foundation package of this project,” said the company’s project manager Ian Claridge. “We are responsible for installing the excavation support and protection, dewatering and drilled displacement piles.

“Dewatering is now being installed, as are drilled displacement piles,” he went on. “The excavation support and protection — sheet piling — is complete.”

With three employees on site, Vance McCown are using John Deere 330C LC, 200C LC, and 230 LC excavators as well as a 450J LT ’dozer and 310E backhoe manufactured by the same company. In addition, the company is utilizing a Bauer BG-23 drilled displacement pile installation rig and a Lay Mor Model 6HC street sweeper for the job. Other equipment on site includes a Komatsu PC 200LC excavator, John Deere CT 322 skid steer, Bobcat T-250 skid steer, and a Genie GTH-636 Tele-Handler.

Some difficulties have been experienced by the company, which began work on the job on August 27, 2010.

“Numerous unknown conditions are present in the ground. The site, located on the Mobile River adjacent to the new cruise terminal, has been many different things in the past 200 years from an original shipping dock, to a ship building company’s repair yard, to a park,” Claridge noted. “The presence of timber, concrete and metal at different elevations in the ground has made the installation of the sheet piling, drilled displacement piles and dewatering a challenge. Each issue has had its own resolution and they are numerous.”

Despite these problems, the deep foundation phase is on track for its anticipated completion date of January 4, 2011, he added.

Vance McCown have engaged subcontractors for the job. Berkel & Company Contractors Inc., of Atlanta is handling the furnishing and installation of sheet piling and drilled-displacement piling. Burns Dewatering Services Inc., locally based in Mobile, Ala., is providing and installing the wellpoint and dewatering system, while Asphalt Services Inc., of Spanish Fort, Ala., is responsible for excavation, storm water and domestic water services. Mobile’s Gulf Electric Company Inc., is primary supplier of electrical power.

The museum is planning an ambitious selection of exhibits, including displays relating to shipwrecks, hurricanes, shipbuilding, plant and animal life in the coastal environment, early settlements, oil and gas platforms and other maritime topics. A particularly striking feature will be a lighthouse’s renovated lantern room. Obtained by the Alabama Lighthouse Association from a Californian collector, the lantern has been fitted with a restored Fresnel lens loaned by the U.S. Coast Guard. Federal funding for developing the exhibits was received from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, which also is supplying information and scientific data for a number of the museum’s interactive exhibits.

The city of Mobile opened bids on 13 of the remaining 15 packages in mid-November, with contracts due to be awarded in November and December.

Vance McCown Construction Company Inc. is licensed as a general contractor in Alabama and seventeen other states. It specializes in institutional, industrial and commercial construction. Incorporated in 1983, previous notable projects have included a maintenance, repair and operations facility for Goodrich Aerostructures in Foley, Ala., (2006), the office and maintenance buildings of a container terminal in Mobile (2007) and the FBI Building in the same city (2002), as well as the McGill-Toolen Science & Technology Building, also in Mobile (2008). They completed a new LEED Silver certified student center at Mobile’s Spring Hill College in May 2010.CEG

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