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NATIONAL CORVETTE MUSEUM SINKHOLE

As reported by media outlets worldwide, the National Corvette Museum (NCM) experienced a tragedy in the early morning hours of 12 February 2014; an experience of which nightmares can only be imagined.  A sinkhole, spanning approximately 40 feet and of unknown depth, opened inside the Skydome, the trademark of the facility’s façade.  This massive earthen breach took with it a total of eight (8) iconic, one of a kind Corvettes.  

Within minutes of hearing of the disaster, DDS personnel, including Geotechnical Engineer, Matt Rogers, PE, SI, M.ASCE and Principal Dennis Smith, PE, PLS, M.ASCE responded to offer their assistance.

Upon arrival, Mr. Smith met with firefighters from the Bowling Green Fire Department to assess the situation and the scope and magnitude of the collapse. Numerous photos that had been taken by the firefighters from various angles were reviewed. The photos and reports from the firemen clearly confirmed that the situation was still very unstable.

Structural engineers had already been summoned and upon their arrival, a detailed examination of the structure was begun and once specific areas were deemed safe for entry, DDS personnel then began review of the situation.  Upon clearly seeing the potential instability of the center Spire, Mr. Smith immediately diverted one of DDS’s survey crews to the NCM to establish a baseline in order to remotely monitor the spire for further movement.  The DDS surveying crew monitored the spire throughout the day and continued to monitor the structure and spire through the planning and remediation process.

During the first hours following the collapse, various methods and means were utilized in order to gain as much knowledge of the extent and severity of the collapse and stability of the structure as possible.  Options included utilizing GoProTM cameras suspended by lines over the side of the ‘hole’ and one mounted to a UAV (quad copter) developed by Western Kentucky University (WKU) Engineering students were used to view areas within the collapse otherwise inaccessible or unsafe for personnel to access at the site.  This project offered the WKU Engineering students their first true test of the value of their efforts to develop a UAV.

Since the initial reconnaissance, DDS has been retained as the Civil and Geotechnical Engineering Firm for the remediation and reconstruction of the NCM Skydome, working with the firm of Scott Murphy and Daniel, LLC, structural engineers from K&S Engineers and subsurface and geotechnical engineers and constructors, Hayward Baker.

In the days following the subterranean collapse, DDS has remained a pivotal member in the team to “Save the Great 8”, as deemed by a local car enthusiast.  DDS has remained on site performing continuous monitoring of the Skydome structure itself both to ease the concerns of the public and Museum visitors, and to provide added safety measures to those working in and around the structure.  Originally on a twice daily schedule and then continuously during micropile installation, the monitoring has since been reduced to a once weekly routine, proving that the faith in the structure has only continued to grow.  The data collected from these monitoring events is processed in the DDS office and a report is compiled and distributed to the team members verifying that the horizontal and vertical positions of the Frustum continue to remain stable.  Additionally, DDS personnel prepared plans and maps of the sinkhole and surrounding areas, which were updated almost daily, to aid in placement of the car retrieval cranes, support equipment and ultimately to aid in the placement of the micropiles installed by Hayward Baker.  Since the ‘hole’ under the concrete floor slab was significantly larger than the hole in the concrete floor slab, it was crucial that DDS staff provide the contractors with a scope of ‘safe working limits’ within the Frustum.  Further, DDS field staff provided the contractors and their safety personnel with detailed information of existing overhead structural components for the placement of manpower safety harnesses and emergency retrieval equipment, as well as planning for the appropriate clearances needed for the retrieval equipment.  

In order to provide peace of mind of the stability of other areas around the Frustum and the adjacent NCM facility, a local geophysical investigation firm prepared to conduct a microgravity study of the facility, primarily to detect the presence of any other underground voids. While one of DDS’ field surveying teams was on hand to monitor the structure itself, a second field team, working closely with staff in the DDS office, provided extensive layout services in and around the structure itself in order for the geophysical investigation firm to conduct that detailed microgravity study.  Thankfully, no other significant voids were detected.

The structure monitoring and microgravity testing all occurred at the same time as the DDS geotechnical department was on site assisting the Hayward Baker team with the extensive network of micropiles being installed.  Matt Rogers, PE, SI, M.ASCE was on site during the entire process, aiding in the placement of each pile and the DDS Material Laboratory was providing materials testing of the grout being placed within the micropiles.  In addition to the fear of the micropile drilling causing unstable conditions, many workers were in and out of the hole, working to retrieve the prized cars during this same time.  This movement inside the hole, coupled with the extensive subsurface work being performed around the hole, caused enormous concern for the safety of the workers.  These concerns led DDS to supply additional manpower to monitor the earthen walls of the hole, both visually and with remote laser scanning techniques, any time workers were present or construction activities were taking place.  Doing this allowed a dedicated individual to watch for movements that might be indicative of another pending collapse, giving the workers peace of mind and allowing them to focus on their tasks at hand. Thankfully, no other significant collapses occurred during the construction activities and car retrieval.

Following the installation of the micropiles, a detailed underground survey of the cavern was performed by Dr. Jason Polk, Assistant Director of the Hoffman Institute at Western Kentucky University, and his team members from the WKU Department of Geography and Geology.  Their survey revealed the true extents and age of the cave itself.  Their efforts within the cavern beneath the NCM Frustum were invaluable to the planning and design of the remediation efforts for the NCM.  

Armed with this new information, NCM officials and members of the construction team have made many decisions regarding the fate of the Skydome and the future of the sinkhole.  Based on the information provided by Dr. Polk, several thoughts are currently being given to maintaining a portion of the sinkhole to preserve the history and legacy of the “Great 8” for future generations to come.  DDS will continue to be an essential member of the team as the process to restore the Skydome to its iconic state moves forward.

In addition to the educational opportunities afforded to the WKU Engineering students mentioned earlier, the collapse has allowed other educational opportunities as well, including the groups from WKU Soils Engineering classes, Foundation Engineering classes, State Fire and Rescue Training opportunities and various teachers groups attending presentations on the numerous aspects of the project.

Project Location

Bowling Green, Kentucky

Client

National Corvette Museum

Dates

2014 - Current

Project Type

Disaster Response

Departments Involved

Surveying,

Civil Engineering,

Geotechnical Engineering,

Construction Materials Testing

Rural/Urban

Urban

Project Management

Scott, Murphy & Daniel, LLC

Project Manager(s)

Dennis D. Smith, PE, PLS

Principal-in-Charge

Dennis D. Smith, PE, PLS

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2014.06.27_NYT_Corvette.pdf After Gobbling Up  Corvettes at Museum,  Sinkhole Becomes a Star      David Montgomery      June 27, 2014