Construction continues at new Miami Science Museum

Museum expected to open in 2015

MIAMI – Construction continues at the new home of the Miami Science Museum, and Local 10 received a tour of the site on Wednesday.

The museum along Biscayne Bay in downtown Miami is about begin the final stage of construction and offered Local 10's Christina Vazquez an exclusive tour of what's been done, the materials they plan to use, and what you can expect to see when it opens.

It is located where Bicentennial Park used to be. The area is now known as Museum Park and will be home to Miami's new Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) and the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science, which will begin the third and final phase of construction in 2013. It is bordered to the south by the AmericanAirlines Area, to the north by the Adrienne Arsht Center and to the east by Biscayne Bay.

"We spent several months digging and people were saying, ‘Are you doing anything?' I think they thought we were just moving dirt around the site," said museum director Gillian Thomas. "Since breaking ground (on) February 24, 2012, up to 250 workers have been excavating the land and building the foundation. Now they are working on the ground floor."

The site plans call for five floors, excluding the roof and garage. It is about 250,000 square feet which is over 4 acres out of a total park area of 28 acres.

"For us it's exciting because we've been working on it for a very long time and you see it taking shape before our eyes," said Thomas, who visits the site at least once a week. "I think it is a very important milestone because you can now see it growing very rapidly."

This globe will go inside either the history or science museum.

On Local 10's tour Wednesday afternoon, crews were pouring concrete into the circular steel foundation of the full-dome 3D planetarium and building the foundation points for the new museum's several aquariums.

The heart of the project will be the so-called "living core," which will be home to wildlife habitats and a 500,000 gallon aquarium.

"In this aquarium, because of the 30-foot wide single piece of acrylic you can look through, you will have this unfettered view into the water. All you will see are the animals, the sharks and the turtles and the schooling fish and the light trickling through the water, so if you like diving this is very much like going through a dive in the deep ocean and you've also got schooling fish below," said Thomas.

The lens that will cover the bottom of the aquarium weighs 35 tons and is 32 feet wide. When it is delivered about the summer of 2013, crews anticipate having to block off Biscayne Blvd to safely navigate it to the construction site.

Thomas explained how lining the living core's walls will be a series of porcelain tiles. There are three types of circular white tiles: flat, concave and convex. She said the different surfaces catch the changing daylight in different ways to create shapes and they will illuminate them with lights at night.

It is a concept they are also applying to the exterior walls.

"It will be really, really spectacular," said Thomas. "One of the things Grimshaw architects wanted to achieve is to take basic materials and use them in interesting ways to make them truly beautiful."

The new site is four times larger than the current and historic location off South Miami Avenue. That means a lot more room for new interactive science and technology exhibits. Plans call for a rooftop urban garden, exercise trail and a River of Grass exhibit for younger visitors to learn about the Everglades.

But don't you worry; some of the museum's more popular exhibits at their current location will be coming along.

That includes the Momentum Machine; the Energy Dance Floor, which harnesses the energy of visitors' dance moves to power lights in floor tiles; and, a more expansive version of their teaching labs.

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As for the museum's iconic globe, Thomas is still working on bringing that over, too.

"We are looking for different groups to take some of these things with us," said Thomas.

If the globe doesn't make it to the new site, the history museum might pick it up, she added. The globe is called the Pan American Airways Globe because it was originally located in the Pan American Airways Dinner Key Terminal in Miami.

When the terminal was converted into Miami's City Hall, the globe traveled down the road to the lobby of the science museum. The museum recently contracted with Conservation Solutions to restore the globe to its circa 1934 paint scheme.

Founded in 1949, Miami's Science Museum is part of South Florida history. This project aims to honor that legacy through its impressive enhancements.

"We hope that when people come to the new museum, they will recognize it as being in the spirit of the old museum but as it must be for the next 50 years, a really new and groundbreaking museum," said Thomas.

Early next year this project will go vertical. The third and final phase of construction is when the walls will start going up.

Completion is expected sometime in 2015.

To donate and learn more about the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science, click here:

The Frosts spent $35 million for the naming rights.

The new museum will also boast two wings of exhibition and classroom space; a café; an energy playground; a 600-person event space; and, an Everglades-to-Ocean "living core" area to include the 500,000 gallon "Gulfstream" aquarium.

According to the museum's website: "The building itself will harness energy from water, the Sun, wind, and even Museum visitors to power exhibits and conserve resources."

In an e-mail, spokeswoman Kelly Penton of Schwartz Media said, "The building is oriented to maximize natural light and ventilation; rainwater collection and reuse. Principal exhibition areas will include health, food and nutrition, energy, communications, weather, disasters, and special "River of Grass" exhibition for young children."