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East County Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020 8 months ago

Landmark project begins as ground breaks on Mote's Science Education Aquarium in Sarasota

Willis Smith and Whiting-Turner begin Phase 1 construction on $130 million aquarium at Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota.
by: Jay Heater Managing Editor

In order to build an aquarium at Nathan Benderson Park that ultimately will hold 1 million gallons of water, builders Willis Smith Construction of Lakewood Ranch and Whiting-Turner of Tampa will have to get rid of a lot of water.

At least temporarily.

Mote Marine has scheduled a Nov. 13 groundbreaking for its $130 million Science Education Aquarium at Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota. That will allow Willis Smith and Whiting-Turner to launch into Phase 1 of the project after almost three years of planning.

"It will be one of the most notable projects in Willis Smith Construction’s history." said Willis Smith Executive Vice President John LaCivita. "It truly is a once in a lifetime opportunity as a contractor to build such a landmark for our region and one the world will recognize. We could not be more excited to get things started."

One of the trickier aspects of the project involves draining water as construction crews build a peninsula to hold the 110,000-square-foot building.

At one end of Nathan Benderson Park, closest to the Mall at University Town Center, are three small lakes that rest side-by-side with only a small dividing strip of land between them. The builders will construct a pad mostly sitting in what now is the middle lake. That lake, the largest of the three and about 20 feet deep, must be drained completely.

That means pumping out 12 million gallons of water.

"This is where the building pad will be constructed and where the large equalization pipes will to be relocated which connect the two small lakes," LaCivita said. "We will drain the east and west lakes partially in order to relocate the pipes. Rain will not fill in the lakes once drained because we will have sump pumps running until the pipes are relocated and the building pad is 100% completed."

Meanwhile, the builders will be bringing in dirt to build the peninsula — 140,000 cubic yards of dirt being delivered by 7,000 truckloads.

Into that peninsula, and at a depth of 80 feet into the lake bottom will go approximately 380 auger cast pilings, Those will stabilize the aquarium.

Most of Phase 1 involves that work, along with construction of a parking lot just to the west of the site. 

"The boundaries for the east and west ponds will remain as they are," LaCivita said.

When finished, the peninsula will be bordered by the east and middle lakes.

The builders have hired eight subcontractors to work on Phase 1 of the project, which should take approximately 6 to 8 months to complete. The project is planned for two phases, with Phase 2 expected to take approximately 2 1/2 years to complete.

LaCivita said there are no issues involving the site's previous life as a mining operation.

Willis Smith Executive Vice President John LaCivita stands alongside the site of the future Mote Science Education Aquarium.

Both Whiting-Turner and Willis Smith are working together on every aspect of the project. Willis Smith was selected as a local company that has made its mark on the region with projects such as the Sarasota National Cemetery Patriot Plaza, the LECOM School of Dentistry building, the Sarasota Opera house renovation, many projects with Ringling Museum and Ringling College, and its current work constructing Waterside Place in Lakewood Ranch.

Whiting-Turner was selected on its national reputation and its familiarity with aquariums. It's work includes the Living Seashore in Baltimore, Mary., the Sea Turtle Hospital expansion in Charleston, S.C., and the expansion and renovation of the 100,000-square-foot Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium in Springfield, Mo. In the Wonders of Wildlife Museum and Aquarium, Whiting-Turner had to install 44 types of filtration systems. 

Willis Smith's Peter Kauffman and Whiting-Turner's Tony Harding and Allan Gladstone will be the senior project managers on site while a team of about 12 project managers overall will direct the work.

LaCivita said the planning teams from the two companies have gotten along "like brothers."

"Our (family) culture at Willis Smith and their culture are very similar," LaCivita said.



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