McCarthy Building Companies, the oldest privately held national construction company, has completed construction of the St. Louis Aquarium at Union Station, a 120,000-square-foot, two-story attraction built inside the footprint of a nearly 500,000-square-foot 19th century iron umbrella train shed designated a National Historic Landmark. The grand opening was Christmas Day 2019.
Featuring one-of-a-kind exhibits and aquatic environments for thousands of aquatic animals from the rivers and oceans of the world housed in 1.3 million gallons of water, the aquarium is the centerpiece of a $160 million family entertainment complex developed for Union Station by Lodging Hospitality Management (LHM).
When construction began in November 2017, the project faced a unique set of challenges. Demolition depended on working from “as-built” drawings from the late 1800s, which made existing condition coordination, work sequencing, and planning essential. Not only was it necessary to protect and preserve the original columns, footings, foundation, underground piping, and more, but historic construction restraints also provided limited access to certain areas, sometimes allowing less than two-feet of space.
As a national builder focused on leading the Virtual Design & Construction (VDC) process from the beginning, McCarthy Building Companies leveraged advanced construction technologies to promote a model-based approach to managing the project’s unique construction coordination challenges. Examples included using 3D Building Information Modeling (BIM) technologies to pre-coordinate all structure, building systems, and theming elements prior to fabrication and installation; model-based field layout and subsurface utility location using robotic total stations; and reality capture with laser scanning of the entire Union Station structure to produce a 3D point cloud with 360° photography. In addition, augmented reality was used to compare the 3D models to field installation on site.
During construction, 1,552 square feet of permanent acrylic panels weighing 53,000 pounds and ranging in size from 3′ x 3′ to as large as 16′ x 18′ were installed, with the largest acrylic panel weighing nearly 14,000-pounds for the 250,000-gallon shark exhibit. Due to its size and weight, it needed to be placed inside the footprint of the exhibit prior to the concrete structure being completed. In addition, nearly three miles (15,800′) of pipe was installed to service multiple complex life support systems, each representing a different ecosystem—from riverside to oceanside and freshwater to saltwater, as well as back-of-house areas with separate holding and quarantine exhibits.
McCarthy brings extensive experience in hospitality construction, including the 200,000-square-foot OdySea Aquarium in Scottsdale, Ariz., the largest aquarium in the Southwest, and the new St. Louis Gateway Arch Visitor Center and Museum at the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in downtown St. Louis.
“As a long-time St. Louis based company, this project has special significance because not only did we build it, but we get to bring our own families to visit the aquarium now that it’s finished. There is a unique sense of pride that goes along with that,” said John Buescher, president, McCarthy Building Companies, Inc.
Designed by PGAV Destinations, the St. Louis Aquarium at Union Station brings together state-of-the-art technology, animal care, education, and conservation with the excitement of aquatic creatures. Expected to attract one-million visitors a year, the St. Louis Aquarium at Union Station is operated and managed by ZoOceanarium Group, which specializes in developing and operating a new generation of aquariums and zoological facilities that emphasize excellent animal care and well-being and that create unique opportunities for people to appreciate and learn about animals through once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
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