National Aquarium delays repairs Board pushes back renovations to '93

December 10, 1991|By Edward Gunts

The National Aquarium in Baltimore has postponed plans to shut down and repair two of its centerpiece exhibits next year so it can have more time to line up the $10 million it needs to complete the work.

David Pittenger, senior director for programs, said that the aquarium's board decided to push back the starting date for the ambitious repair program -- a 12- to 20-month project -- from September 1992 to September 1993.

At the same time, he said, the aquarium plans to add more exhibits on the lower level of the Pier 4 Marine Mammal Pavilion -- where much of the space is now used as a food court -- and in the alcoves under the 1,300-seat amphitheater there. The facility also will construct a freestanding ticket pavilion on Pier 3 to shorten lines and improve access to the two-building complex.

The aquarium is the most popular attraction in Baltimore that charges admission, with more than 1.5 million visitors a year.

Aquarium officials said in June that they needed to drain the twolargest tanks in the 10-year-old Pier 3 building -- the 335,000-gallon Atlantic Coral Reef exhibit and the 220,000-gallon Open Ocean shark tank -- so they could repair concrete and epoxy that have been eaten away by salt water, replace corroded metal and make cosmetic improvements to the exhibits.

They characterized the project as routine maintenance and said the rest of the aquarium would remain open while the ring tanks underwent repairs. Marine life would be moved to other areas, and a temporary multimedia exhibit would be mounted near the area that was being repaired so the work would not detract from the visitors' experience.

Mr. Pittenger said the repairs still must be made. But after further study, aquarium officials decided that they could address the aquarium's maintenance needs by spending about $100,000 on immediate repairs to certain holding vats and other behind-the-scenes equipment, and put off draining and repairing the display tanks themselves, Mr.Pittenger said.

He said the year's delay will give the staff and board a chance to line up all of the funds needed to complete the repair work, whose cost was estimated six months ago to be $8.5 million.

"We need to be more certain about the source of funds," he said. "If you're not sure of your funding sources, you can't proceed."

For example, the city of Baltimore plans to ask voters next November to approve a bond issue that would provide $3.5 million for the repairs.

If the work were to begin in September 1992, aquarium officials wouldn't yet know whether the bond issue would pass, Mr. Pittenger pointed out.

Other funds most likely will come from a combination of state money, private donations, a bank loan and the aquarium's own foundation.

Cambridge Seven Associates, architect of the original Pier 3 building, has been hired to complete a master plan for revisions in and around the two buildings, including a permanent ticket pavilion.

According to Paula Schaedlich, director of education and interpretation, the ticket center will help relieve the long lines and other traffic congestion problems that arose after the Marine Mammal Pavilion opened last December.

Ms. Schaedlich said the increased congestion is largely the result of the surge of up to 1,300 people who leave the pavilion after every dolphin demonstration. When some of the people try to walk back into the Pier 3 building across the bridge joining Piers 3 and 4, she said, they interrupt the steady flow of patrons who are coming from the older building.

The result, she said, is that the two-building complex is able to accommodate fewer visitors on crowded days than the Pier 3 building could handle by itself.

When the new ticket pavilion is in place, she said, the aquarium will adopt a "dual entry" system in which some visitors will enter through Pier3 and some will enter through Pier 4 -- whichever way keeps the lines shortest. Tickets will be computerized to tell visitors not only which entrance to take but what time to come, further reducing the size of the crowds at any given time, she added.

Cambridge Seven is also redesigning the lower-level food court of the Marine Mammal Pavilion so people go right into an exhibit on marine mammals when they arrive without passing through the dining area.

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