Project Profile: Port Discovery Children’s Museum
Scope of work: $10.5 million building renovation and construction of two, multi-story exhibits
BC&E Member companies involved: Lewis Contractors, Ariosa & Company, Enterprise Electric Company, Jennings H. Mitchell & Son, Inc.
Combining a century-old fish market, helical tube steel, shipwright duties, polka dot paint treatments and (of course) a friendly sea monster, the Port Discovery Children’s Museum renovation challenged the project team to embrace a different level of unconventional construction.
The renovation, which was completed this summer, was the first major makeover of the Disney-designed museum since it opened in 1998. The project included the creation of two new multi-story exhibits – The Port and the SkyClimber.
Designed to portray the history and commerce of the Port of Baltimore, The Port includes visuals of the harbor, cargo handling and scanning facilities, and the S.S. Friend Ship – a three-story, replica cargo vessel (complete with gantry crane and engine room) that looks like it is coming through the wall of the museum.
“One of the biggest things we contributed to in preconstruction was leadership in the design of that ship,” said Tyler Tate, President of Lewis Contractors, which served as construction manager at risk for the project. “We looked at everything – light-gauge metal framing, steel, fiberglass. We even consulted with several shipbuilders. Ultimately, we settled on custom plywood ribs that could take the curvature of the hull of the ship…and contracted a traditional millworker to build it.”
Creating the SkyClimber, however, posed an even bigger challenge. The exhibit designer had conceived of a massive, steel-and-rope structure that would enable children to climb from “Chessie’s Grotto” (the underwater home of a friendly sea monster) up four stories through the port and to the clouds, then descend through a dramatic, twisting, four-story “Storm Slide.”
“The SkyClimber relies on some very large pieces of tube steel which are rolled in a helical shape…and they curve up from the traditional floor of the fish market and are mounted to the ceiling,” Tate said.
Through extensive consultations with the structural engineer, Lewis determined they would need to add new footings beneath the 113-year-old former fish market which is located barely 50 yards from the Jones Falls. They would also have to tie the helical steel into the building’s structural columns “but only at specific points because the steel in the existing building is very slender,” Tyler said.
To deliver the highly unconventional project that included an out-of-town architect and exhibit designer, Lewis “empowered our team to take an over-and-above direct relationship with the owner” to closely work through questions about design, engineering and construction, Tate said.
The result was more than an on-time, under-budget, expertly constructed project, he said. “There is so much color and whimsy and flair – adjectives you don’t normally get to ascribe to a construction project. My goodness, it’s a fun space to be in.”