- Edmonton, Alberta-based PCL Construction began site work late last month on a unique dolphin attraction at the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park in Fort Walton Beach, Florida.
- The 2-acre Dolphin Oasis is expected to cost over $20 million, according to Aimee Brim, Gulfarium's director of marketing and communications. The exhibit will feature three interconnected marine habitats, which the dolphins will be able to move between. The design also incorporates back-of-house husbandry habitats, filter systems and a hydraulic lift to raise animals to the water's surface for medical treatment. It is expected to take 14 months to complete, and opening is anticipated for spring 2023.
- While the day-to-day construction of Dolphin Oasis is little different from any other project, the habitat requires higher quality materials and special consideration for sound and vibration management, Rick Goldman, PCL Construction's vice president and district manager for Orlando, Florida, told Construction Dive. "The material section [for Dolphin Oasis] is a bit of a higher standard, not only for the animals' safety but [because of] the corrosive nature of saltwater," Goldman told Construction Dive. "Your typical concrete, your typical rebar is not the same as your hotel or condo next door. It's going to be a higher standard, higher specification, higher quality materials."
Designed by Seattle-based MIG|Portico, the Dolphin Oasis will serve as an expansion of Gulfarium's existing dolphin exhibit, which has been in use since the park's opening in 1955.The exhibit will be located on undeveloped land on the north side of the park, and construction will not disrupt park operations.
Together, the three new marine habitats will support over 1 million gallons of salt water directly from the Gulf of Mexico. The largest of the three — where presentations will take place — will include seating for up to 480 guests. The second-largest will serve as a nursery for the Gulfarium's breeding program and feature a split-level view through a 27-foot window on the pedestrian walkway.
At the north end of the site, the third habitat incorporates a beachfront, and provides opportunities for guests to interact with the dolphins both in and out of the water.
The PCL team is also constructing what is known as the "life support system," an area behind the exhibit that houses a series of water filters that cut oxidants from the water, enabling the habitats to support live fish.
Safe and sound
Entertainment venue construction is a core business for PCL's Orlando office, Goldman said. The firm has completed a number of aquatic projects for SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, including the Aquatica Orlando water park, completed in 2008, and an 875,000-square-foot saltwater reef and a series of new exhibits at Discovery Cove, also in Orlando, completed in 2011.
Construction noise and environmental impact are vital for the PCL Construction team to monitor over the course of the project — not just for the Gulfarium's human neighbors, but for the park's animal residents and the wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico, Goldman said.
"A typical hotel or condominium neighbor can tell you when you're keeping them up at night, or if the noise is too loud or the vibration is annoying them," Goldman said, "whereas the animals can't speak to us. So we've got to constantly work with the park operator and monitor that. We do that daily, starting with a daily huddle, first thing in the morning, and then constant check-ins throughout the day just to make sure everybody's happy, including the animals."
While the Dolphin Oasis contract was awarded during the COVID-19 pandemic, Goldman said the team has not encountered any difficulties on the project related to the coronavirus's impact on the industry.
"What we're seeing on other projects is material shortages or material delays," he said. "This project primarily being concrete and steel, if you will, those materials are readily available. Slight increases were encountered, but we had forecasted that."
This story has been updated to include the cost of the project.