New Blogger! Meet Susanna, HMNS Construction Project Manager

October 1, 2010

If you’ve been by the Museum lately, you may have noticed the giant hole in the ground between the Butterfly Center and the parking garage – as well as the steady stream of dump trucks along Hermann Drive. Construction of our new wing is solidly underway, and I’m excited to introduce our newest blogger!

Susanna is the Museum’s Project Manager for the construction, and she’s going to be giving us monthly updates on our progress towards the construction of the world’s best paleontology hall at HMNS – plus scores more classrooms for educating tomorrow’s scientists and leaders. We caught up with her to find out more about her role here – and get an update on progress so far.

Check back next week for Susanna’s first post!

Your title is HMNS Construction Project Manager. What does your job entail?

My job is to ensure that all the members of the HMNS Expansion project team approach every decision and task on the Expansion with the museum’s goals and interests in mind. That means I ask the contractor and the design team a lot of annoying questions, pester HMNS staff for operational details and feedback, bore everyone by repeating myself, further bore them by repeating what I think they just said to me, and generally worry there’s a question I haven’t asked or a point I haven’t made clear. When I’m not acting like a parrot or trying to imagine worst case scenarios, I get to play in the dirt in a hard hat and boots, which is pretty darn fun.

What is a typical day like?

Most days I send emails back and forth to the architect and contractor, shuffle paper, create paper, answer questions that arise, occasionally react to surprises from the contractor, occasionally react to surprises from the museum president, and hang out on the roof of the garage and take pictures and watch the construction. At this phase of construction I’ll usually walk the site once a week – most of the activity is big enough that you can see what’s going on from far away, plus they don’t need me wandering around threatening to fall in open trenches or totter in front of a backhoe or dump truck.

September 2010
The latest panorama image of the construction, taken just a few days ago.
Check out our set on Flickr for monthly images of the progress until now.

How similar or different is this project to others you have worked on?

This project has components that are similar to each of the other projects I’ve worked on. Managing the addition of a new wing onto an existing (and operational) building requires thinking about the project as being both a ground-up construction job and an interior renovation project.

While the Expansion work doesn’t include renovating the public spaces in the existing museum, the construction of a brand new central plant in the new wing does involve significant work to tie into existing infrastructure, and the contractor and the HMNS Building department have taken great care to make sure this process is seamless and unnoticeable to museum visitors and staff. I’ve also worked on projects for other prominent non-profit organizations in the Museum District and Texas Medical Center, and like those projects the HMNS Expansion benefits from the involvement of multiple key staff members as well as an involved Board of Trustees and Building Committee.

Technically speaking, this is the first project I’ve been involved with that has the foundation system the HMNS project does. Rather than digging the basement pit and temporarily retaining the earth until the foundation walls can be formed and poured, the contractor first drilled large, deep concrete soldier piles side-by-side around the building perimeter and then began excavating the pit for the foundation and basement level. The piles then serve both to retain the earth and as an integral part of the foundation wall system. As the foundation work has progressed I’ve really enjoyed geeking out over it.

What’s the most exciting part of the Museum expansion project?

So far, watching the tower crane go up and excavation get under way have been the most exciting part because they are such visible signs of progress. Many people might not know that construction has been underway since late February. Because the underground utility re-routing, other site work, and the drilling and pouring of the 261 soldier piles happened entirely underground, from street level the first six months of construction activity looked like little more than gardening. NOW even a casual observer can see the work progressing.

What’s the strangest thing that’s happened so far?

It’s hard to classify something as strange at a place as lively as HMNS, but the excitement about Lois this summer was one of those “only at the museum” kinds of experiences. Just one construction activity was impacted – very minimally – by Lois’s late-night and all-night schedule, but I can assure you that no one on the project team had “corpse flower” on their risk assessment radar.

Otherwise, like most inner city projects, we had a few surprises underground as we prepared the site this spring, but nothing more than old and abandoned utilities. Next time we’re hoping for something cooler than that, like treasure.

I also enjoy learning construction terminology that would sound strange in any other context. So far my favorite on this job has been “butt fusion.”

What are you most looking forward to?

The Grand Opening! Watching a new building grow up out of the ground is a thrill, but a beautiful new space is lifeless until people inhabit it. I’m excited to watch the team at HMNS fill the Expansion Wing with exhibits, collections, programs, and events. When the first visitors walk through the doorway to the new Paleo Hall, the reward will be tremendous.

What can our readers expect over the next few months?

The next 6 months will be the period when rapid progress is most visible to the public. In the next few weeks the building’s foundation will be complete, and the concrete structure will begin to emerge, with topping out expected in March 2011. The building enclosure should follow the structure up out of the ground, at which time readers will have to check back here for an insider’s view of what’s going on with the Expansion project.

Erin B
Authored By Erin B Blatzer

Erin is the Director of Business Development at HMNS. In a past life, she was a public relations and online marketing dynamo at HMNS.

2 responses to “New Blogger! Meet Susanna, HMNS Construction Project Manager”

  1. Sherry Applewhite says:

    Can you tell me where I can view an architectural rending of the exterior facade of the expansion of the Museum of Natural Science. I live across the street in the Warwick Towers and watch the progress daily, but wondered what my ultimate view will be upon completion?

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