With the list of tasks facility managers tackle each day, most are accustomed to the feeling of dealing with “moving targets.” But, imagine if your building itself was the moving target. That’s what the facilities staff at the Dinosaur National Monument in Vernal, UT are dealing with each and every day.
Run by the National Park Service, the Quarry Visitor Center there is facing substantial structural issues. The building, which houses a rock wall containing 1,500 fossil bones, a paleontology lab, exhibits, and a bookstore, is shifting on a daily basis. Facets of the building’s construction are contributing to the problems, including its partial positioning on a sandstone ridge and the nature of the soil. Unfortunately, any real solution to these issues are not in the foreseeable future, since funding is subject to approval from the U.S. Congress.
Paul Foy of the Associated Press wrote:
With no money yet to replace it, the National Park Service can only watch as a visitor center that was built over a dinosaur bone quarry slowly splits apart, making do with patchwork repairs as the building slowly crumbles.
It’s been a problem at the center at Dinosaur National Monument since it was built in 1957, but officials say the pace of the disintegration is picking up. Gummy, clay soil under the building swells when wet and the concrete basement floor has warped into something like ocean rollers. When the bentonite clay soil dries, it crackles like popcorn and shifts parts of the building again.
“It’s like a fun house,” said Dan Chure, chief paleontologist at the monument. “There’s some everyday work that needs to be done to make sure the doors close.”
The Quarry Visitor Center, about 2w0 miles east of Vernal, is considered safe — for now. Officials keep it open with stopgap repairs, and keep track of a spider web of cracks on exterior walls.
Plans to fix or rebuild the building are on a wish list subject to congressional approval. The National Park Service wanted to start work in 2008, but last summer’s Gulf Coast hurricanes and the war in Iraq forced a reallocation of federal spending that delayed the work at least until 2010, said Becky Nebs, who supervises building projects for the Park Service’s Intermountain Region.
An extensive rehabilitation is estimated to cost $6.9 million and would anchor the center to bedrock with 80-foot-deep foundation pillars. It would cost more to tear the building down and replace it, a subject of debate inside the Park Service because that would strip the building’s designation as a National Historic Landmark.
The center, shoehorned between a pair of sandstone ridges near the Green River, is the only place at the monument to see dinosaur fossils and gets about 300,000 visitors a year — a figure that briefly shot up to a half-million after the movie “Jurassic Park” was released in 1993.
It was built partly over a sandstone ridge where in 1909 Carnegie Museum paleontologist Earl Douglass spotted eight fossilized Brontosaurus tail bones.
Douglass spent 15 years excavating what turned out to be a bounty of bones from an area barely the size of a basketball court. In the 1930s, a WPA crew split open the ridge to reveal more dinosaur fossils and the National Park Service reopened the quarry in 1953 for careful excavation. Today more than 2,000 bones are still embedded in a tilting slab of sandstone inside the visitor center’s atrium.
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