- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Construction of the new and improved Patuxent River Naval Air Museum is on track to kick off as soon as next month, with contract approval from the state level the only piece of the puzzle missing.
“I’ve received unofficial correspondence from my counterparts at [the State Highway Administration] letting me know that concurrence and the award package is being processed, so we just need to be patient,” Gary Whipple, manager of capital projects for the St. Mary’s County Department of Public Works and Transportation, said at last Wednesday’s meeting of the Lexington Park Business and Community Association. Whipple said SHA has up to five weeks to review the package and deliver a verdict. “We submitted it to them in early July, so we’re expecting a favorable report from SHA any day now.”
The St. Mary’s County commissioners selected Washington, D.C.-based company Broughton Construction as the building contractor for the $4.6 million project June 26.
“The completion date for the museum, then, is all contingent upon receipt of the letter from SHA, but as soon as that letter comes in, there will be 10 to 15 days for the contractor to submit his bonds and insurance,” Whipple said. Construction is expected ot take one year, he said. “So let’s say — and don’t hold me to this — that the end of the month, Aug. 31, we’ll have the notice to proceed ... that means we should be doing final inspections and getting [Patuxent River Naval Air Museum] Association into that building come Aug. 31 of next year.
The association will need four to six months to outfit the building with new and existing exhibits once construction is completed, after which the new museum and visitors center will be open to the public.
“You have one of the busiest intersections in St. Mary’s County, the main gate to our main economic engine, and if you look at it from the air, it screams to have a museum built there,” Whipple said.
The old building near the site of the new museum will not be torn down; it will remain on the site to house “certain exhibits as part of the story the association wants to tell,” Whipple said, adding that the existing museum will stay open throughout the construction of the new facility.
The original museum sat within Patuxent River Naval Air Station property prior to the expansion of Route 235 in 1999. That building was demolished to make room for the road and the facility was moved to its present location outside of Gate 1 in 2001, Whipple explained.
In 2004 and 2005, the county secured state grant funding for design for site development, and in 2005 federal funding was secured.
“In 2006 and 2007, the site was developed further using state grant money,” Whipple said, and infrastructure, utilities, paving and sewer were installed. In 2008, site work was completed, he said, but the original design was retooled as costs were about $1.5 million over budget.
“In 2010 we used existing state grant funds that we still had and issued a new design contract, reprogrammed the building, made it simpler, made it more cost-effective, went through the design review process and awarded the new design,” Whipple said, noting that design work was completed last year “on time and within budget.”
“Here we stand at the threshold; we’ve done all this planing and all this design work ... and here we are ready to enter the construction phase,” Whipple said.
Whipple said the new museum’s total footprint will be slightly smaller than the current 22,000-square-foot facility, but at 20,860 square feet will include 14,690 square feet of space for exhibits (up from 10,900 square feet). An additional 1,320 square feet will be allotted for the gift shop; 543 square feet for office space; 541 square feet for a conference room and 275 square feet for a new visitors center. The balance, Whipple said, will consist of restrooms, storage, mechanical space and circulation areas. A rolling mechanical hangar door will round out the back end of the building, allowing for ease of movement for static displays both inside and outside of the museum.
“One of our goals is to build a landmark museum and celebrate our heritage of naval aviation and advanced technology,” Whipple said. “As visitors and residents of St. Mary’s County drive south on Route 235, the idea is to catch the public’s eye. It’s a landmark facility, simpler than the prior design, but still maintains aviation character in the airfoil-shaped roof. You’ll be able to see into the building as you drive down the road, and the pearlins in the roof will be highlighted so it will look like the rib structure of a wing.”
The museum association is also working with the Experimental Aircraft Association to create a replica of the Curtiss A-1 — one of the first planes developed in naval aviation — which will hang from the ceiling and be visible from the highway through the roofline, Whipple said.
“We’ve also had an opportunity with the redesign to look at some ways to make the building more efficient for the museum association as well, as they’re the ones who will be paying the utility bill,” he said. “One thing we came up with is radiant slab, where in parts of the flooring we’ll have a closed pipe system that will pipe hot water through the slab to keep the floor warm in the winter, which will significantly cut down on the heat load coming from the mechanical system. We’ve also made sure with the structural engineer that if we, say, roll the Joint Strike Fighter across the area that we won’t crush the slab and piping underneath.”
As heat rises, a system of destratification fans will be installed to help pull the heat back down to the floor level, allowing for additional savings on heating costs.
Fabric ducting, a new concept, will also allow for better, more efficient distribution of the building’s airflow. “The airflow will inflate the fabric duct and the air will bleed through the fabric, which will also allow for a much quieter system,” Whipple said. “The porous material deflects dust from accumulating, but the fabric ducts are also removable for easy cleaning.”
The lighter weight of the fabric ducts will also allow for savings on steel costs for the roof, as the structure won’t have to bear as heavy a load as with metal ducting, Whipple said.
“We’re also looking to create new, exciting exhibits in this new building ... and education will be a main goal,” Whipple added, noting that two bus parking spots have been added to the site plan for school tours. “There will be a state-of-the-art research library, and hands-on access to the aircraft tested over the years at Patuxent River Naval Air Station.”
“The visitors center component is going to be very important as well, and we envision this to be the gateway to people that are coming over from [Route 4] into the county,” said Carolyn Laray, tourism manager for St. Mary’s County, citing the existing visitors center in Charlotte Hall as the welcome point for those traveling south on routes 5 and 235. “Many of our sites in the area are more heritage and culturally based, so I think this museum is going to be able to appeal and work in tandem with places like the Calvert Marine Museum and function as the anchor destination for Lexington Park. It’s going to do great things for the county.”
“There will just be so many things for us to celebrate come this time next year,” said Robin Finnacom, president and CEO of the Community Development Corp. “It’s very exciting.”
“This is a capstone project, Whipple said. “It’s been a long effort in reviving and revitalizing Lexington Park and ... it’s the last piece in developing this whole corridor through the Lexington Park area and Route 235 widening. There’s a lot of work to be done, but we’re really looking forward to delivering a high-quality museum to you here in about a year.”