Restoring The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum

By Jim Romeo | September 28, 2010

Please visit our photo gallery to view pictures of this project.

On the lower west side of New York's Manhattan Island is an area that was once bustling with maritime trade and commerce. Today, this area is in the process of revitalization. The development of the project known as Hudson River Park has been under way and extends from Battery Place to the south, upward to 59th Street on the west side of Manhattan. The entire project is 560 acres, and is one of the largest open-space developments in New York City since the completion of Central Park.

The Intrepid Museum, located at the northern part of the project, was restored to allow access to never-before-seen spaces where the crew lived and worked. New exhibits on the ship tell the story of the Intrepid's role in U.S. naval history. Skanska USA's role in the museum restoration has involved managing the demolition and reconstruction of Pier 86, which features a park-like setting with four new access towers and includes a glass-enclosed elevator with new gangways.

Bringing the dormant ship back into the refurbished pier and bringing many working features alive was risky, although manageable. It required rebuilding the power and utility systems serving the ship from the pier and the original visitor's center. "The construction team consisted of a variety of subcontractors — working on everything from plumbing and electric to the elevator and stair towers — to the structural, civil and marine engineers," says Stephan Freid, project manager for Skanska USA Building.

A project of this scope can be a daunting task, according to Freid. "It was hard to build a pier to plug a specific ship into," he says. "There are a lot of variables that can't be accounted for when the ship is absent from its berth. Managing multiple subcontractors and dealing with the available funding issues was a constant struggle when we were trying to finish the pier in time for a specific date."

The project timeline spanned about two years. "The project began in December of 2006 when the ship was originally towed from her berth," explains Freid. "From that point we had just under two years to remove the old pier and build a new one."

Freid notes that the greatest challenge of the project was its schedule. The ship was to return on October 2, 2008, and the museum had to be open for a celebration in conjunction with Veteran's Day. These dates were non-negotiable. Meeting these constraints kept the construction team engaged and vigilant, but ultimately successful.

Before construction of the new pier, the construction team had to remove the original wood pier, which was not operational. They then installed a completely new foundation of 360 underwater steel piles, while keeping 1,000 pre-existing wooden ones. A special team of divers and underwater engineers were employed to complete this phase. They later found that the project had many environmental challenges.

Nearby there are numerous habitats of juvenile striped bass that thrive from the Atlantic Ocean's points of entry into the navigable waterways around New York City. Because of these habitats, there was a moratorium on the pile-driving contractors from November 1 to May 1. This moratorium was necessary so as to not disturb the habitat formations of the wintering fish.

Other issues added to this challenge. The New York State Department of Environmental Control and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' New York District's regulations mandated that the original wooden piles also had to be preserved to protect the striped bass. In addition, a 10-day concrete worker strike took place less than 90 days before the Intrepid's return.

"We started by demolishing the old pier," explains Freid. "Everything had to be removed with the exception of the wooden support piles because they were an integral part of the underwater fish habitat. We then installed the new steel piles and began constructing the pier on top of them. After the pier was constructed, the four towers went up. Lastly, finishing touches were made by adding the flagpoles, shade structures, and other details that make the pier unique. The longest phases were the demolishing and actual building of the pier surface.

"The last major phase of construction was installing the gangways that connect the ship to the pier. The gangways will transfer upwards of a million visitors each year to the ship. They had to arrive on barge, where they were lifted and put into place using cranes."

Freid lives by the tenet that proper planning makes for proper construction. "We try to get things right the first time, every time," he advises. "The less errors you make, the easier things are. Plan ahead as much as possible, stay on your time schedule. The basics of good building on any project come into play regardless of visibility."


The USS Intrepid And The Hudson River Park Trust

The $60-million Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum project fell within the larger Hudson River Park project funded by the Hudson River Park Trust, which was created in 1998 through legislation between the state of New York and the city of New York.

Skanska USA has been working as the construction manager for the park between Bloomfield Street and Greenwich Village and West 59th Street. The efforts of Skanska began in 2003. While Skanska has not managed all of this revitalization, they have been responsible for major projects within it, which include the Chelsea Cove section of the park that extends from West 22nd Street to West 26th Street and their banner project — the rebuilding of Pier 86 for the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. The two-year project was substantially complete by the end of 2008.

Key challenges of Skanska's management of the new Intrepid Museum, Visitor's Center and Pier:

  • Completing everything in time for the Intrepid's return
  • Six-month construction moratorium (November-April) to protect juvenile striped bass habitat
  • Preservation of the original underwater piles to protect the bass habitat
  • 10-day concrete worker strike less than 90 days before the Intrepid's return
  • Managing multiple subcontractors within available budget constraints
  • Plugging a dormant ship back into the refurbished pier and restoring all of its utilities and infrastructure