On the 80th anniversary of “The Star-Spangled Banner” being designated as the United States’ official national anthem, a new Visitor and Education Center opened to the public at Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine in Baltimore. The March 3 event marked the culmination of many years of planning.
The 17,655-sq.-ft. (1,640 sq m) facility was designed by GWWO Architects Inc., which also is based in Baltimore, beginning in 2006. The full contract amount was approximately $9 million and called for a new building, demolition of the old visitor center and old maintenance shop, and restoration of the cultural landscape, as well as fabrication and utilities. It was awarded to Forrester Construction Company of Rockville, Md. Construction began in July 2009 and was completed in time for the March 3 grand opening.
Although the original building, which opened in 1964, accommodated a maximum of 250,000 visitors, it was reportedly undersized as soon as 1968. Over the years, funding was not available for a new center, and by 2005, it was estimated that 30 percent of school groups wishing to visit the facility were turned away for space reasons. The number of annual park visitors was recently estimated at more than 650,000.
The new building provides visitors with an orientation to the site as well as film and exhibit experiences. In addition, it includes an education space, comfort amenities and administrative space for the park. The exhibit area is divided into three galleries and is about three times the size of the former exhibit gallery and theater.
“We had to remove … unacceptable soil beneath the building pad when we started,” project manager Keith Kern said of challenges with the project. “The weather at the end of 2009 and the beginning of 2010 was terrible, and we found a few cannonballs in the ground that had to be dealt with by the bomb squad. One was found during the building excavation, and the others were in the utility lines. They were found during the excavation activities. Also, the exhibit/museum area was new to the project staff, and the process took awhile to learn.”
Major subcontractors included Locast Lane Farms for the building and site demolition, which was done with a backhoe; Colonial Electric for electrical work; Ariosa & Co. for mechanical work; and Cindell Construction for drywall.
Fort McHenry’s history dates back to 1776. According to its Web site, “when the citizens of Baltimore Town feared an attack by British ships, an earthen star fort known as Fort Whetstone was quickly constructed. The fort, like Baltimore, was never attacked during the first conflict with England.”
Fort McHenry was actually built prior to the war of 1812 and is named for James McHenry, secretary of war from 1796 to 1800. When the British attacked the fort in September 1812, Francis Scott Key was inspired to compose “The Star Spangled Banner.” CEG
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