Draper aquarium faces delays, financial difficulties

Published: Monday, Jan. 20 2014 9:15 p.m. MST

The rainforest exhibit is filled with vegetation at the Loveland Living Planet Aquarium on Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014.

Matt Gade, Deseret News

DRAPER — The 136,000-square-foot building on Lone Peak Parkway isn't filled with the marine life and field-tripping elementary school students expected to be there by now.

The Loveland Living Planet Aquarium was slated to open in December 2013, but the project has faced multiple delays.

Now the organization is in "extreme financial hardship," according to a statement from Brent Andersen, founder and CEO of the aquarium.

The Sandy location closed in September, and much of the marine life was moved to a temporary location in a warehouse. Early construction schedules projected opening dates ranging from early December to Dec. 21.

"It is important to remember that the aquarium is a very complex building, and so many things are dependent on each other that a small delay in one area often has a domino effect on many others," Andersen said.

Due to indecision and numerous plan changes on the part of the aquarium, the contracted construction company didn't get a full permit on the job from the city until July 25 — about six months later than originally planned.

"Our contract calls for us to complete what's defined as a cold shell 150 days from receiving the full permit," said Romm Jackson, project manager for Tom Stuart Construction. "And the cold shell is defined in the contract as floor slab complete, exterior walls erected, roof installed."

The construction company completed the cold shell requirement well within the 150 days. But as construction continued, more changes followed, as well as obstacles such as having fewer electricians than intended for almost a month.

"We worked nights and weekends," Jackson said. "We worked basically 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. for several months just to help out, even though we weren't required to by contract."

The aquarium and construction company agree both parties are working with urgency to finish.

Jackson said most of the unfinished work isn't the contractor's job. There is still more for the construction workers to do, but they are waiting on the aquarium to finish some things first.

Aquarium officials are handling a lot of the work on their own: painting the main exhibit areas, building the gift shop and doing tank and system plumbing.

Once construction is complete, the marine life will be brought over, but not until it is safe for the animals.

Aquarium employees have to cycle and prepare the tanks, some of which are already full. This includes making sure the tanks have the proper pH levels, salt, bacteria, temperature and filtration systems — a process that can take up to 60 days.

The fallout from the setbacks isn't just financial.

A 400-person fundraiser was scheduled at the aquarium for March 1. But because of sliding opening dates, Saint John the Baptist Catholic Schools canceled and will hold its annual Blizzard Ball fundraiser at an alternate location.

"What we were told most recently was that (aquarium officials) were looking at mid-February (to open) … but it was just a little too close for comfort for me," said Nevah Stevenson, director of advancement at the schools.

The aquarium has events scheduled starting mid-February, according to Suzy Broadbent, marketing director for the aquarium. Broadbent said she believes the aquarium can work around all of them, but all of the animals might not be there at first.

"No one is more anxious to get the aquarium open than our staff and our employees, but I know the community is ready as well," she said.

Broadbent said the aquarium is getting close to completion but as of now has "no solid opening date."

Email: madbrown@deseretnews.com, Twitter: madeleine6

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