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Maritime Aquarium’s theater/tank construction lags — is Walk Bridge also behind?

An artist’s rendering of the planned 4-D Theater alongside the Maritime Aquarium’s entrance.

NORWALK, Conn. — Construction the Maritime Aquarium’s seal tank is behind schedule and the 4-D theater is likely to face COVID-19-related delays, but this won’t be a problem with the State because the Walk Bridge construction is also behind schedule, Clay Fowler said.

Fowler, of Spinnaker Construction, is in charge of the Maritime Aquarium’s Building Committee. He relayed this quick summary at last week’s Board of Trustee’s meeting.

The new 4-D theater is being paid for by the State as a replacement for the Aquarium’s IMAX theater because the Connecticut Department of Transportation plans to demolish the IMAX theater to provide space for construction equipment to be used on the Walk Bridge project.

ConnDOT is replacing the 123-year-old railroad bridge over the Norwalk River with a two-span, vertical lift bridge at an expected cost of $511 million. Federal law mandated a replacement of the theater and seal tank because they’re on city-owned property and used by the public for education purposes. The seals will gain a 150,000-gallon tank and the larger, deeper, enclosed exhibit will help to protect them from noise and vibration of the Walk Bridge work

Given that the Walk Bridge project will bring much construction equipment to Norwalk, ConnDOT is also replacing railroad bridges on Fort Point Street, Osborne Avenue and East Avenue, for a total project cost of $1.2 billion.

Construction on the new seal tank and the 179-seat state of the art 4-D theater and began in November. It was thought that they would be open late this year.

The theater’s foundation is partially complete but the seal tank “lags a bit,” Fowler said last week, blaming the latter on coordination issues, in particular on “lots of piping.”

“We can’t waive the possibility, in fact we’ve already had first notice of this, of delay due to COVID,” Fowler said. “…The steel manufacturer for the frame to the building has told us that they cannot deliver on time and they’ve asked for, one, more time, and warning us there may be more dollars. We’ll work through that. There will be many other issues like this when we move through construction.”

There’s money in contingency and the allowance for overages, but this likely means that a hoped-for surplus won’t materialize and the Aquarium won’t be able to build a new entrance, as originally desired, Fowler said.

Initial plans called for a new entrance opposite Marshall Street. This was scrapped when the bids came in higher than hoped, beyond the budget authorized by the State.

“This job is just painful, made more painful by COVID but we will get through it,” Fowler said Wednesday. “We are behind schedule by three to four weeks, we hope to make some of that up, but there is no fear that we will be in the way of the state. The state is behind.”

ConnDOT spokesman Judd Everhart on Monday wrote, “The current schedule for the Walk Bridge is completion of design this year with construction starting in mid-2021.  In the meantime, the Department is planning to start advance utility relocations this summer to facilitate the upcoming Walk Bridge construction.  These are water, gas and sewer lines on streets in the vicinity — North Water Street, Fort Point Street, and Osbourne.”

Fowler, on Wednesday, said he’d bet money that the Walk Bridge is six months behind. That’s a conservative bet, as it may be 1.5 years behind. He knows this from his other buildings, he said.

Spinnaker owns Ironworks, across from the Maritime Aquarium.

The seal tank and 4-D theater work is a “tough job” in a confined space, but the Maritime Aquarium is “fortunate” that the City hired Construction Solutions Group (CSG) as its consultant and “I don’t think we could be in better hands,” Fowler said.

“I think we’re fortunate to have any money at all in this day and age to do what we need to do, so onward and upward,” Fowler said. “And we will get to the goal line next year for the for the theater for the theater and … after for the seal tank.”

One comment

Concerned Taxpayer April 7, 2020 at 9:20 pm

Good, I don’t think anyone is looking forward to over 60 months of bridge construction which will be another setback to small business in the area.

And hopefully the new high school plans get squashed

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