HMNS Expansion Update: September 2011

If you’ve been searching for a silver lining to the story of our area’s historic drought, here’s a very small one: the museum’s new Dan L Duncan Wing didn’t lose a single day of work this summer due to rain.

Progress on the expansion project has been made at a furious pace over the past few months. Here are some of the highlights:

Walls and roof engaged!

By the end of July the expansion’s gleaming white roof had been torched into place, and the exterior sheathing and glass curtain wall had wrapped its way around the entire perimeter of the building (save for a couple of spots left open for the delivery of interior finish materials.) This condition designates a building as being “dried-in,” an important milestone that releases the contractor to move ahead with finishing climate-sensitive aspects of the project’s interior.

HMNS Expansion: Sept. 2011 Update!
The contractor is putting the finishing touches on the glass curtain wall
at the center of the western wall of the fourth floor.

Power Up and Chill Out.

In late June, the permanent electrical service for the new wing was energized, ahead of schedule! Then, just in time for the arrival of the record streak of 100-degree days, the contractor was able to start up the building’s HVAC system. Not only does the flow of air allow the building to breathe a little, protect the interior finishes from melting or molding, and keep the workers from suffering heat exhaustion, but starting up the system this early also allows extensive testing and balancing of the mechanical equipment to ensure air flows well both in the new building and in the existing museum, which will ultimately be served by the new central plant, too.

HMNS Expansion: Sept. 2011 Update!
View of the bright and shiny new central plant. Has kind of a Kubric feel to it, no?
The HVAC system was switched on in July.
Eventually it will heat and cool both the new wing and the existing museum.

Paleo Hall Transformed.

The vast space of the future paleontology hall, on the expansion’s main level, has been dramatically altered over the summer. Ductwork has been insulated. Sprinkler pipes, lights, and Unistrut have been hung. Drywall soffits and furr-downs have been framed, sheetrocked, taped, and floated, defining the nooks and crannies that will host the fossils and murals and dioramas the HMNS staff has been assembling and designing.

HMNS Expansion: Sept. 2011 Update!
At the north end of the future paleontology hall, lights, drywall, and
Unistrut are still being installed via scissor lift. Beyond the large white walls seen here are the
boilers, domestic water pumps, and chillers.

The Halls are Alive…

In the expansion’s lower level, bright corridors are now defined as the walls for the new classrooms, animal room, auditorium spaces, and conference spaces are sheetrocked, primed, and ready to be painted. The ceiling grid and support beams for moveable walls to divide the larger classrooms have been installed. Just this week the contractor sawed through the 12-inch thick concrete foundation wall of the existing museum to connect the lower level of the expansion with the Jones Gallery.

HMNS Expansion: Sept. 2011 Update!

This could be a photo of the installation of a new exhibit on grave robbing, but it isn’t.

In order to connect the lower level of the new wing to the lower level of the existing museum,
the contractor is cutting through the thick, concrete foundation wall below the Weiss Energy Hall.
This photo shows the first cut, as seen from the expansion side.

Going Up!

While getting the stairs installed was an exciting milestone from our last post, this time the exciting news about getting from floor to floor revolves around the elevators. The platforms, doors, and wall enclosures for the three new passenger elevators are all installed. The contractor is busily constructing the conveying mechanism and cabs for the passenger elevators as well. On the other side of the expansion’s core, the back-of-house service elevator is operational (for contractor use, that is), its shiny stainless steel cab protected by plywood for the next few months.

HMNS Expansion: Sept. 2011 Update!
Contractors work on the platform of one of the three new passenger elevators.
Every time they catch me taking their picture, they ask for a dollar.
So I had to be really sneaky to capture this valuable image.

The fall season may not bring much needed rain to Houston, but it does promise some exciting developments on the HMNS expansion project, as walls, floors, and ceilings receive their finish treatments and the exterior scaffolding comes down to reveal the building’s snazzy travertine and aluminum coat.

Follow HMNS Expansion Updates | See the Full Expansion Photo Set

Members…And Monsters! [The Prehistoric Kind]

This summer is still swinging (17 straight days of 100+ temps make that fact hard to forget) – but we’re already looking forward to summer 2012!

Why? Because that’s when our new paleontology hall opens!

To get ready, we previewed the new hall this summer with a series of member events – each one featured a different dinosaur that will take up residence in the new wing next year.

Shark Week at HMNS: Megalodon!
Associate Curator of Paleontology David Temple shows an HMNS volunteer
around our 10-foot Megalodon jaw on display to celebrate Shark Week!
The jaw will be part of the new Paleontology Hall, opening Summer 2012!
Prehistoric Monsters: Mosasaur! [July 16, 2011]
Members who attended our Prehistoric Monsters series of events
this summer had the opportunity to talk dinosaurs with our curator of Paleontology, Dr. Bob Bakker!
Prehistoric Monsters: Mosasaur! [July 16, 2011]
Meet the Mosasaur! This prehistoric sea monster will be on display in the new paleontology hall!
Prehistoric Monsters: Quetzalcoatlus [6.11]
Kids dig for – and identify! – fossils!

We want to say a huge THANK YOU to all our new and existing members who joined or renewed this summer – your support is vital to our expansion project, and will enrich science education in the Houston community for decades to come.

If you visited our photo booth during one of our Prehistoric Monster events, find your photos here!

If you’re not yet a member – what are you waiting for?

Members will be the very first to experience the new paleontology hall when it opens next year – and if you join or renew now, you’ll get 3 additional months of membership free! Plus, there are still several great summer member events coming up!

Expansion Update! New Time Lapse Video

Not even the amazing speed of this winter’s construction can top a flying dinosaur, but the last few months have been a period of exciting progress on the Expansion Wing.

As the building’s skeleton has emerged up and out (and out and out) of the basement, the project site literally looks different every day. For a beautiful illustration of that fact, check out this time lapse video of construction; it covers the period from April 2010 to the beginning of Feb. 2011 at 10 hours per second:

If you’re impatient, forward to about 3:25 – that’s when the magic starts happening.
Can’t see the video? Click here.

Here are just a few of the big things the construction team has accomplished since November:

  • The concrete structure for the basement, level one, level two, and level three is in place and curing (getting up to strength.) Once the formwork is removed, temporary wooden shoring columns remain in place as the subsequent floor slabs are poured. This allows the contractor to keep building the structure even as the concrete below does its final bit of drying out.
  • The scaffolding and formwork for the slab on level 4 are being installed, and the columns that will support the wing’s highest floor are being formed and poured as well. To prepare for a slab pour, the contractor installs a system of scaffolding, plywood, steel and aluminum beams and supports, and metal pans to serve as a giant jello mold for the concrete to fill. Woven in between the pans and the plywood are the steel rebar and cables that reinforce the slab’s concrete and also allow the slab to get “tied in” to the columns above and below it.
  • Post-tensioned steel cables within the concrete structure are beginning to be stressed on the third level. Post-tensioned steel cables are a way of reinforcing the structure. They serve the same purpose that rebar does, but what happens is that they pour the concrete over the cables, then after the concrete has dried for a few days, the contractor pulls on the cables from both ends with hydraulic jacks. (This is called stressing.) The tightening of the cables is part of strengthening the slab. Using post-tensioning is one way to get longer spans of concrete between columns without having to make the floor slab thicker, meaning the diplodocus will have plenty of room to stretch his neck in the new Paleontology Hall.
  • The new loading dock, which extended the existing dock, was poured at the end of December. While museum visitors rarely see it, the loading dock is one of HMNS’s critical areas of operations.  The artifacts and construction materials for every exhibit flow through the dock. The delightful creepy crawly animals that the Education department takes to visit schools depart from the dock. And the tables and chairs and scrumptious food for special events arrive at (and are sometimes even prepared at) the dock. Not only does the new dock provide more space for these important functions, but it also includes a new powered lift to allow for more flexibility when heavy crates with fossils or mummies arrive. Kudos to the contractor for doing this work with minimal disruption to museum operations!
  • The new natural gas emergency backup generator was delivered and set in place. It’s not the sexiest piece of equipment on the job, but when you need it, you’re glad it’s there… especially if you’re a fish or a butterfly.

All that in just three months? You betcha. And the fun has only just begun!

PS. We’ve added 25 new images of the site to our HMNS Expansion Flickr set – including the first photos from inside the new building!