Complexities will delay construction of Pier Wisconsin

Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 11:00 am

Although significant progress has been made on the Pier Wisconsin project on Milwaukee’s Municipal Pier, the expected completion date has been pushed back several months.
Pier Wisconsin officials initially predicted that the center would open this fall, but they now say the $46 million, 100,000-square-foot facility will open in May 2006.
Andrew Wiegman, project manager for Gilbane Co., which is managing the project’s construction, said the project is moving on pace to meet the new timeline.
"We’re tracking for that completion date," Wiegman said. "It’s a very intense schedule, but we’re keeping right on top of it."
Pier Wisconsin will be the new home of Discovery World, which will move to the lakefront from the Milwaukee Public Museum complex, and the Great Lakes Aquatarium.
Philanthropist Michael Cudahy has provided much of the funding for the project.
Work is nearly complete on the structure’s foundation, and crews have started work on the ground floor.
The most unique aspect of the project so far, Wiegman said, is that there are no completed plans for the project. Instead, he and other construction officials are getting detailed plans for each portion of the project they are working on when they are about to start it.
"(Architects) are completing the program requirements simultaneous to construction," Wiegman said. "It’s a phased construction approach, giving us just-in-time information to build it. Because the building is about science and cutting edge technology, the owners want to get the best exhibits and design. It’s a better design process to make sure the museums have the most excitement. It will be a really exciting project when all is said and done, with vibrant exhibits that children will be able to enjoy."
Laura Strigens, project manager at the Milwaukee office of Hammel, Green and Abrahamson, an architectural, engineering and planning firm, said some aspects of the plan have evolved over time, resulting in several revisions to interior designs.
"The client is trying to figure out its ever-changing needs, and we’ve been trying to respond to those as fast as possible and keep ahead of construction," Strigens said. "It’s been a very exciting project to work on. We’ve had to work at a kind of furious pace, as have the clients, in doing the design."
Strigens said Pier Wisconsin’s final construction document was to be filed before the end of March, and plans for the building’s exterior and much of its interior have been finalized. Some modifications have been made to interior spaces, she said, which has also required some tweaks on mechanics.
"The things that have been in flux have been some of the configurations of the interior spaces and the layout," Strigens said, adding that communication between architects, designers and the construction manager has been critical to the project’s progress.
Because it is located along the shore of Lake Michigan, the Pier Wisconsin construction project has posed some unique challenges.
Ground was broken for the project in June 2004, after the existing buildings at the site were demolished. The site was excavated down into the lake bed, 17 feet below the top of the seawall.
The building is protected from water on the south and east sides by the sea wall. The west and north sides of the building are protected by a mixture of soil and bentonite, a waterproof clay construction material. A natural layer of clay underneath the building will prevent leaks along the foundation.
Bentonite forms fixed barriers when exposed to water, making it an ideal candidate to keep water out of the foundation of Pier Wisconsin.
Ditches were dug along the north and western sides of the foundation. Construction crews filled the ditches with a mixture of bentonite and soil, which formed a waterproof boundary.
The metal seawall on the south and east needed extensive repairs before work could start on the foundation, Wiegman said.
"It was installed in the 50s, and there were a lot of leaks," he said.
Because the project needed considerable pumping and excavation, Gilbane worked extensively with Wagner Komurka Geotechnical Group, its geotechnical technicians, in the early phases of the project.
"There is a tie-back system that holds up the old sheeting wall, and we de-watered it in sequence to alleviate the pressure so it wouldn’t collapse," Wiegman said.
Since much of the work done to date has been below Lake Michigan’s water level, the project required three large pumps to keep things dry. Wiegman said only one of those pumps remains in the most eastern section of the project, where crews are beginning to erect interior concrete walls.
The eastern section of the building will house Pier Wisconsin’s Aquatarium, which will include an aquarium in its lower level, interactive displays relating to the Great Lakes, shipping and aquatic life on the ground floor and a viewing area on its roof.
The Aquatarium is being constructed on both the ground and over the lake’s surface, supported by a series of pilings driven deep into the lake bottom.
The pilings for the Aquatarium are about 9 feet across, and are paired with a series of smaller pilings, which will support an outdoor amphitheater and dock. The dock will be the new home for the lake schooner Dennis Sullivan.
"Now that we’ve got the foundation pretty much complete, we will be starting with the form work in April for the stuff over the water," Wiegman said. "Some temporary pilings will need to go out there and a new temporary deck will need to be put out over the water so we can work there."
New sanitary sewer and water lines have been installed in the middle of Michigan Avenue, which will serve both Pier Wisconsin and the Pieces of Eight restaurant, located to the north of the construction site. A storm sewer and a new street will be put in when the project is nearing completion, Wiegman said.
Because the Pier Wisconsin project is being constructed on the shore and over Lake Michigan, the construction phase is subject to the scrutiny of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Wiegman and other project officials have met with both agencies to ensure the project is on the right path.
Wiegman said the largest concerns both agencies had about the project during construction concerned storm water management, because neither wanted to see mud flowing into the lake.
"There are very specific requirements for storm water management," Wiegman said. "We keep daily records of it and haven’t had any issues in regard to this. There are controls in place. It’s a concern, but not a problem.

Pier Wisconsin
Location: Municipal Pier, Milwaukee
Size: 100,000 square feet
Features: Great Lakes Aquatarium, Discovery World and dock for Dennis Sullivan
Cost: $46 million
Web site:
Opens: May 2006
Construction manager: GPD/Gilbane
Architect: Hammel, Green and Abrahamson
Concrete: C.G. Schmidt Inc. Construction
Foundations: Gillen Co.
Mechanical contractors: Staff Electric, Mared Mechanical, Wisconsin Fire Protection, Butters-Fetting Co., Grunau Metals, Griffin Dewatering

April 1, 2005, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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