by George Waldon on Monday, Nov. 15, 2004 12:00 am
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The daily countdown to the Nov. 18 grand opening of the William J. Clinton Presidential Center & Park, enumerated atop the western face of the four-story project, is nearing zero.
The gathering at the new landmark is expected to radiate a sheen of celebrity and political star power that will include past presidents, dignitaries, Secret Service agents and national media.
Construction of the 148,000-SF presidential library and museum in downtown Little Rock weighed in at $97.7 million — touted as the largest building permit in the city's history. Finishout costs and related work push the value north of $110 million.
CDI Contractors LLC of Little Rock, general contractor on the project, coordinated a team of about 50 subcontractors.
"Every job has its surprises, but this one did not have any more challenges than a much smaller job," said Bill Clark, chairman and chief executive officer of CDI Contractors. "That's a credit to our good architectural and engineering team and construction management group.
"It came off really well, and there was nothing contentious about the project. It went about as smooth as a nine-figure project could go."
Hensel Phelps Construction Co. of Aurora, Colo., filled the role of program manager overseeing the development for the William J. Clinton Foundation.
The archives portion of the center opened in July, and presidential material began taking residence in a move from temporary quarters.
The museum contains 20,000 SF of exhibition space on two levels, devoted to a mix of rotating exhibits and permanent displays. Ralph Appelbaum Associates Inc. of New York is the exhibition designer for the project.
A 110-foot-long timeline presenting a history of the day-to-day work of the president and his administration comprises photographs, videos and interactive stations. Other permanent exhibits include full-scale replicas of the Oval Office and the Cabinet Room, where visitors can access interactive media stations while sitting at the Cabinet table.
The lower three floors and basement are devoted to the museum and archives, with the fourth floor reserved as the private executive living quarters of former President Clinton.
A radiant heating and cooling system is integrated into the center's concrete. The archival portion of the building is dominated by cast-in-place concrete with waffle slabs. The building was designed by Polshek Partnership Architects of New York to resemble a futuristic truss bridge. The design also serves as an allusion to a catchphrase from Clinton's re-election campaign in 1996: building a bridge to the 21st century.
"It truly looks like a bridge," said CDI's Clark. "To me, that is the most unique part of the design. From the interstate, it looks like an extension of the old [Rock Island railroad] bridge nearby."
A glass sunscreen wall, composed of more than 150,000 pounds of three-layer panels hanging from the side of the center, adds to the modern look.
From a distance, the exterior coloring appears to be solid white, but on closer inspection, the panels actually have a horizontal line pattern. The interior side of the panels contain a dot pattern that forms a black tint. The ying and yang combination reduces exterior heat gain from the sun while blocking ultraviolet rays.
Despite the contrasting hues, the custom glasswork allows two-way visibility.
The panels are an important component in plans to create a night lighting scheme that will showcase the center.
The panels are among a quiltwork of 14 different systems — a dozen of which were custom designed — that compose the center's exterior.
The bridge motif translates into a pair of 420-foot-by-45-foot trusses atop two 90-foot cantilevers supported by drilled concrete caissons.
The 420-foot-long building has three load-bearing points of caissons. The single foundation column on the north end is crowned with a 95-ton girder, 50 feet wide by 13 feet tall, composed of 6-inch-thick plate.
Drilling the required 45 feet to sink the caissons provided one of the first construction challenges on the job.
Although soil reports indicated soft shale, the drilling turned out to be much tougher. The harder rock formation was good for added stability, but the surprise doubled the projected 45-day drilling schedule for the piers.
Despite the unexpected turn, adjustments to the work schedule allowed the drilling to be completed within a week of the planned delivery of the trusses.
The main entrance on the west side of the building is aligned with the eastern terminus of President Clinton Avenue, which will be visually punctuated by Celebration Circle bordered by a curved "water feature."
"Please don't call it a water fountain," said Dexter Doyne, president of Doyne Construction Co. of North Little Rock. "The designers are real sensitive about that."
Doyne's firm was the subcontractor on this portion of the presidential library project.
"I saw it in blueprint form and scale-model photos, but none did justice to the finished product with the beautiful black granite. It's certainly a reflective pool. You can look into the water and see the reflection of the library building."
Doyne Construction also was the general contractor overseeing renovation of the historic Choctaw Station. Originally built in 1899 as a rail passenger depot, the 16,500-SF structure was more recently home to an Italian restaurant and a night club.
A $4 million contract has transformed it into the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Policy. Polk Stanley Rowland Curzon Porter Architects Ltd. of Little Rock and Witsell Evans Rasco Architects of Little Rock co-designed the project.
"One hundred years later, we have a brand-new old building on the cutting edge of education," Doyne said. "The outstanding thing is the building had such a rich history as a turn-of-the-century train station. It's now the birthplace of the first school in the U.S. dedicated to public service."
The building houses two classrooms, library, common room and staff facilities downstairs. Upstairs are the William J. Clinton Presidential Foundation and an office for the former president.
Work on the Choctaw Station kicked off in October 2003, with the first two months devoted to interior demolition and the removal of lead and asbestos. Structural retrofitting followed.
About 10 tons of steel in the form of 30 I-beams were installed to shore up the structure and provide needed support for improvements.
A new roof was among the items requiring better load bearing capacity. The new look is slate gray, capturing the color of the original roof.
A standing-seam metal roof was retrofitted over an existing green standing-seam metal roof, which in turn covered the original slate roof beneath. Two flat sections of roof on the north and south ends of the building were stripped down to the decking and topped with a new Derbigum roofing system.
Original plans called for removing the old floor covering and refinishing the wood beneath. That proved unrealistic because of deterioration and leveling issues.
A lightweight concrete system was chosen to level the surface instead of a plywood overlay because of reduced creaking and improved stability. A new wooden floor finished the process. Poplar replaced cypress in a cost-cutting move.
"It's certainly a pleasure to walk through the building," Doyne said. "That's an inherent reward I get that the building is restored and the occupants are pleased with it."
The park component of the 27.7-acre development isn't expected to be finished until next year. The same goes for many pieces of the landscaping puzzle.
Plantings and turf are taking a temporary backseat to maintaining open space, which will be at a premium to accommodate the expected throng for the opening ceremonies.
Finishing work on the grounds will include an Arkansas Arboretum, featuring varieties of native trees from around the state.
Added greenery will be contained in the contemplative grove, a garden with reserved space that could serve as Clinton's burial site if he chooses. The final-resting-place option is a little-known amenity of every presidential library development.
Still on the drawing board is a planned riparian (that means riverside) garden along the Arkansas River west of the center. Four pedestrian walkways will extend out over the water for scenic overlooks.
Also on hold until after the opening crush is construction of a large play area. Based on the concept of "An American Childhood," the playground will feature icons and exaggerated art forms of such elements as blocks, tricycles, a tree house, marbles, leapfrog and hopscotch in homage to Clinton's boyhood memories.
The park is designed by Hargreaves Associates of Boston and San Francisco.
Another dormant part of the project is redevelopment of the nearby Rock Island Railway Bridge. The former rail span will be converted to pedestrian traffic after development plans on the North Little Rock side of the bridge take shape.
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