After months of continuous, 24-hour work shifts, Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium may be ready for its scheduled reopening Sept. 22 and tonight’s tribute ceremony.
Frank Schaffer II, project manager for general contractor Nabholz Corp., said 450 to 500 construction workers and craftsmen have been on site daily, right up to early this morning when they all cleared out to make way for security and logistical preparations before tonight's event. A ceremony tonight is scheduled to feature appearances by former U.S. Presidents Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush. The ceremony is scheduled to be livestreamed on the WOW website.
“To my understanding, everything is complete,” Schaffer said. “The amount of work that gets accomplished in a given day would blow your mind with the high quality (subcontractors) that we’ve got. It is ready to walk through for the public.”
Just yesterday, crews – including 40 subcontractors – were hanging pictures, installing glass in displays, laying flooring and painting murals. Representatives from Springfield architecture firm Butler, Rosenbury & Partners Inc. came through in the afternoon, listing small changes that needed to be made immediately, Schaffer said, mostly related to lighting and visitor safety.
“We still have staff doing a few minor things for the event tonight,” he said, “but we’re probably down to 25 people on call.”
A steel structure will be added to the north side of the building for the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame, Schaffer said, but that is scheduled for a later date and not part of his company’s deadline. Nabholz was hired in January to meet Morris’ September goal, Schaffer said.
What is WOW?
The 350,000-square-foot destination comprises two main sections: Wildlife Galleries and the slightly larger Aquarium Adventure. The entire complex takes visitors on a 1.5 mile-path past 50 exhibits.
Aquarium Adventure resides in the original WOW building, built in 2001, and it extends with new construction that connects WOW to Bass Pro. There are 35,000 live animals on display, including fish, black bears, beavers, snakes, bats, owls and a bald eagle. As one might expect from the Bass Pro founder, there is a focus on fishing and aquatic life. Freshwater and saltwater creatures from the Ozarks as well as the Amazon rainforest and the Atlantic Ocean swim through 1.5 million gallons of tanks.
Although some of the displays were unveiled to the media in the past and have been functioning in WOW for years without visitors, there are new ones making their debut at the relaunch.
Great Ocean Hall is a two-story, ring-shaped tank that allows visitors to stand in the middle and watch deep-ocean saltwater fish travel around. The room’s lights are kept low so the tank, with 300,000 gallons and living coral reefs, can shine bright. Patrons then come face to face with another two-story living exhibit. It’s filled with thousands of herring that nervously swirl in a vortex to avoid several sharks that hungrily circle the school.
The aquarium includes life-size models of large ocean wildlife and game trophies, including whales, tuna fish and sharks.
Visitors also can tour the Fishing Hall of Fame and a wall depicting U.S. presidents’ participation in fishing.
Wildlife Galleries is primarily housed in second-story space within Bass Pro that formerly housed museum displays unrelated to WOW.
The new content comprises dozens of staged scenes with taxidermy, surrounded by vegetation and terrain from their native habitats, in front of individually hand-painted mural backdrops. The African savanna exhibit captures how the creatures — most of which died of natural causes in zoos — would have interacted with each other. In the scene, large hoofed animals, such as bulls and zebras, cross a stream and are later attacked by alligators, which sets off a stampede and attracts the attention of elephants, monkeys and other wildlife. Around the corner, the Lions at Night exhibit features a pack of lions stalking through a moonlit campsite.
WOW is scheduled to open Sept. 22. Adult admission is set at $40 per day or $95 per year. Children ages 4-11 will be admitted for $24 and annual family memberships start at $250.
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