Paleontological Pandemonium! It’s happening: Read on

Listen, we need to talk. We have something to tell you, and it’s going to change things. Are you sitting down? Okay.


Hayyy! Ohhhh! Hayyy! Paleooo!

Phew, we feel better getting that off our chests! With all of our prep work, all of our research and all of our behind-the-scenes sneaking, we’re relieved to finally get to share with you all that we’ve been working on.

Here’s a couple figures to get you started:

30,000 square feet
60 brand new mounts
30 prehistoric creatures
12 feet of Megalodon teeth
$85 million buckaroonees

But there’s more: Where other exhibitions feature stagnant skeletons mounted in formal poses, all the mounts in our new paleo hall have been designed in action poses for the ultimate interactive experience. Ever seen a Megalodon eat a prehistoric elephant? Just. You. Wait.

Make sure to follow all the action on Twitter at @hmns and Facebook at and join the Twitter conversation yourself at #hmnspaleo!

For a full array of great paleo hall photos, check out our Flickr feed here!

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!

HMNS Expansion: The Story So Far

Before a single spade is turned to construct a building, first that building is an idea. And then it is a program. And then it is a design. And then it becomes construction documents, during which time it maybe become a slightly different design. And finally, with all the approvals in hand, it is time to build the building.

For the HMNS Expansion project, museum staff, board members, and project team members spent years preparing and planning for the February 2010 construction start. Preliminary design work by Gensler began at the end of 2006, and general contractor Linbeck was brought in to perform preconstruction services beginning in 2008. And while construction is by far the riskiest (and most expensive) phase of a project, after years of planning, the occasion of groundbreaking results in no small measure of relief for those involved in ferrying the project to that milestone.

So with all the excitement and anticipation built up over several years of planning, the first six months of construction at the HMNS Expansion site might have been a little anticlimactic to some, as eager project participants and spectators waited, and then waited, and then waited some more to see “the hole” for the Expansion wing’s basement level take shape. But rest assured, much was accomplished those first six months, albeit below the surface and behind the scenes, to prepare the site and the museum for all the activity ahead:

HMNS Major Accomplishments from February to August 2010:

Relocation of Existing Utilities at Donor Wing

Progress on the New Wing Buildout

One of the first steps in the buildout process was to remove
the existing utilities at the site of the new wing.
See the full set of photos of the expansion progress on Flickr.

Removal of Existing Delivery Driveway  and Completion of First Phase of Permanent Delivery Driveway

Progress on the New Wing Buildout
The existing delivery driveway was also removed and the first phase of the
new delivery driveway was completed. This is this “after” shot.
See the full set of photos of the expansion progress on Flickr.

Site Demolition and Rerouting of Underground Utilities

Progress on the New Wing Buildout
This phase included site demolition and rerouting of existing utilities.
In this shot, the contractor is installing a maze of pipes and conduits
now covered by the new delivery driveway.
See the full set of photos of the expansion progress on Flickr.

Initial 3’ Cut for the Building Foundation

Progress on the New Wing Buildout
The contractor makes the initial foundation cut, just 3 feet deep to begin with.
See the full set of photos of the expansion progress on Flickr.

Installation of 261 Soldier Piles for Foundation System

Progress on the New Wing Buildout
This was taken during the installation of 261 Soldier Piles for the
Foundation System of the new building.
See the full set of photos of the expansion progress on Flickr.

Forming and Pouring the Pile Cap

Progress on the New Wing Buildout
Here, the crew is forming and pouring the Pile Cap.
See the full set of photos of the expansion progress on Flickr.

But as the project entered its seventh month, the signs of earnest construction activity appeared as the HMNS Expansion work kicked into high gear.

Visible Progress in September!

Arrival of the Tower Crane

Progress on the New Wing Buildout
The tower crane is completed!
See the full set of photos of the expansion progress on Flickr.

Excavation of the Basement Level

Progress on the New Wing Buildout
Excavation of the basement level begins!
See the full set of photos of the expansion progress on Flickr.

Read our Q&A with Susanna from earlier this month for more insight into the construction process, and check back soon for more updates from the construction site.