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Another Day at the Reef "Award Winning" Aquarium renovation project at Moody Gardens

Gilbane is no stranger to unique, challenging projects and the Aquarium renovation project at Moody Gardens certainly fit the bill. Not only did the aquarium need to remain open to accommodate the year round tourist seasons in Galveston, it also had to remain accessible 24-7 to operations staff for animal care. Gilbane’s goal was deliver this project not just on time - but early. To accomplish this complicated project, it took 2 years, 9 phases, and a logistics plan that was seamless.

The Aquarium is the most popular attraction at Moody Gardens, and making sure all details were carefully reviewed was of upmost importance. Gilbane worked closely with the subcontractors and the design team to look at value engineering options and material choices that best suited operational needs. The $37 million renovation was the first renovation of the building since they opened in 1999 and this project added new life into this already impressive facility. The addition of new exhibits, new flooring, lighting, as well as improvements to the life support systems complimented the facility while providing improved function.

A few of the challenges included providing a temporary housing for the penguins so work on their exhibit could be performed, changing out lighting over a full shark tank, performing work at the underside of the pyramid peak, repairing various leaks and polishing acrylic in the existing tanks, just to name a few.

Communication and coordination were key to maintaining the project schedule and ensuring a path to success. Contractors were working in every area of the pyramid at various times, and we had to connect to existing HVAC and LSS systems. The construction team stayed in contact with Aquarium personnel to ensure we coordinated the work in such a manner to cause the least amount of disturbance to not only the staff, but to the animals that called the Aquarium home as well.

Where do you buy large scale aquatic tanks and fake coral? Parts for this project were procured from all over the United States, and shipped to the site in very uniquely shaped packages. A camera crew for the owner followed a flatbed holding 2 sections of a 13ft diameter tank all the way from Denver! One of the more challenging scopes to source was the leak repair and acrylic polishing. Due to space limitations, some of the animals could not be removed from their exhibits for this work to be completed.

Extensive research led to a company that performed the type of underwater work we needed. They identified leaks on the wet side of the exhibits and were then able to perform necessary repairs under water, all while fighting off sharks and nibbling fish. They also polished the acrylic in place. This process removed years of scratches from animals and staff cleaning, creating a dramatic improvement in appearance. They did such a great job in their duties, that the client approved having them install new coral in some of the older exhibits to add new life and color.

All of the challenges paled in comparison to our biggest task – installation of the new Gulf Tank exhibit. Gilbane installed a 26’ tall cylinder in a pyramid through a square hole and dropped it in place over a constructed in place shotcrete themed oil rig leg. This delicate portion of the project was reviewed, discussed, and planned for almost 11 months before the actual lift took place.

We found a way to get the tank into the building, but for the move to the final location, the floor had to be supported in several locations where the tank weight exceeded the allowable floor load. There was also a steel column that supported the mezzanine above that had to be re-shored and removed to allow for the width of the tank. Scaffolding had to be built where the tank had to roll over the stair opening. Lastly, a swing stage was put on the exterior of the pyramid and 4 panes of glass were removed so a cantilever hoist beam could enter the pyramid to pick up and set the 2 separate sections of the tank.

The tank was in 2 pieces with the lower section being about 8’ shorter than the top piece. The tanks were offloaded and put in building, then pushed into the building where the crane would make the lift. It was a grueling few days, but everything went off without any issue. Once tanks were in place sealants were installed and we started putting the pyramid back together.

Gilbane is proud of the team approach taken by all parties on this project. With a tight budget, big goals, and maintenance issues to address, we work through each step as a team, determining what was best for Moody Gardens and the life, both guests and animals, that will occupy the building each day. Respect, patience and teamwork paired with a positive attitude is what clearly made the Aquarium Renovation Project rise to the top! Winner of the Engineering News-Record (ENR) TX & LA Best Project Award in the Renovation Category, 2017.

Contact us to learn how we can assist you with your upcoming project. We are always up for the challenge! acotie@gilbaneco.com or visit us on the web to learn more: www.gilbaneco.com

Created By
ginarenee autrey
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