From Realtà Mapei n° 37 - 10/18/2023
The Suzanne and Walter Scott Aquarium at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium in Omaha, Nebraska, had been given private funds for a rehab project.
As the largest aquarium inside a zoo, the Scott Aquarium features a 70-foot (21.3-m) shark tunnel, sea turtles, Antarctic penguins and a host of warmwater fish. The aquarium hosts coral reefs and replicates polar regions, salt and freshwater exhibits, and even the Amazon. It is a popular focal point for the community and is even used for after-hours events.
The project to update the entryway, facade and restrooms of the beloved aquarium facility would be followed closely by the community – and the results needed to meet a high standard.
The Omaha Zoological Society wanted to replicate, as much as possible, the patterns of the aquarium’s underwater world that the guests would be enjoying in the exhibit. The organization wanted something with details, something that went beyond “standard concrete.”
It was ultimately decided that the undulating underwater patterns would best be replicated by pavers – either installed in an asphaltic set to be completed by a landscape company or in a direct-bond installation to be completed by a tile contractor.
Tile contractor Universal Flooring advocated for MAPEI products, and MAPEI worked with the tile contractor and with the distributor, Daltile Omaha, to put a submission package together. After a conference call with Daltile Omaha, MAPEI sales representative and project coordinator Brett Robben, and MAPEI Director of Architectural Sales Mike Granatowski, all on the call were convinced that MAPEI system solutions were the best for the project.
The second phase was to convince the owner (the zoo), architect/designer (Stanley J. How Architects) and contractor (Kiewit Corporation) that MAPEI’s system solutions were superior to the proposed installation from the landscape company.
During a roundtable meeting with 15 representatives from all involved companies, Robben presented MAPEI’s system solutions that included reference projects from MAPEI’s Website as well as Tile Council of North America (TCNA) installation details and Technical Data Sheets.
Robben answered all the questions that were posed, demonstrating knowledge of the products and of the project. He also showcased the superior nature of MAPEI’s system solutions. In addition, MAPEI demonstrated that it works with a team: At the presentation, MAPEI had four representatives from Daltile Omaha, one from MAPEI and two from Universal Flooring, whereas the landscape company had one representative who presented limited information.
True to MAPEI form, Robben outlined a detailed plan that covered the project from the CADs to the finish – system solutions involving technical knowledge and innovative products. At the end of the presentation, Universal Flooring and MAPEI were awarded the job.
MAPEI on the job
This remodeling project was an extensive one. The project specifications featured a 12,000-square-foot (1 115-m2) aquarium entryway and food-court area for the Sea Turtle Café. The café plans included 1,000 square feet (92.9 m2) of an exterior glass-tile facade with waterjet glass outlining the words, “Sea Turtle Café.”
The entryway and food-court area were highlighted by 2,000 square feet (186 m2) of exterior Dekton (ultra compact, high-performance tile panels) walls. The project also included 7,500 square feet (697 m2) of floors and walls in exterior and interior restrooms.
The remodel started in July 2019, but it was not until October that Universal Flooring was able to begin its portion of the project and start work on the floors and walls.
To approach the project in the most efficient manner, the tile crews were divided into one main crew for the exterior pavers, restrooms and glass, and another crew for the Dekton panels. Crews ranged from two to four people, depending on the day’s scope of work.
Although the install was straightforward, the jobsite presented multiple challenges. The aquarium remained open to its inhabitants and to its visitors during the remodel. For this reason, attention to detail and safety (always a top concern) was even more apparent on this project.
A clear, clean, well-defined path to the doors of the aquarium had to always remain visible and accessible so that the interior could stay open. This was no easy task when overhead trades (for example, those performing the complex steel and metal facade installation) were working while the tile installers worked below. It required a precise coordination of daily, weekly and monthly schedules.
A large part of the daily jobsite meetings was to ensure that all were on the same schedule, and it was not simply a matter of safety. For example, the Universal Flooring crew had to coordinate closely with the concrete contractor so that the concrete contractor could cut relief joints in the slab that was directly under Universal Flooring’s movement joints. The placement of the joints was critical and, because two different crews were responsible for the crucial joints, it was vital that they coordinate their installations and placements.
Robben said, “We had to coordinate the new concrete being poured to overlay our saw cuts/control joints and carry them through the intricate detail/pattern of the tile.” Robben continued describing the flooring installation in general. “The new concrete substrate had slope and drainage designed into it as well, to get water off of the slab,” he said.
The tile crew followed behind. “Surface preparation was performed, and Mapecem Quickpatch was installed. Then, Mapelastic 315 was applied for crack isolation,” Robben said. “The pavers were installed with Granirapid and Kerapoxy CQ was used for grout, with Mapesil T for movement accommodation.”
The close coordination between the concrete and tile contractors also provided a well-textured slab for the Mapelastic 315 membrane to bond to – maybe a little too well, the contractors would joke between themselves.
The tiles feature a wavy pattern that is meant to mimic waves and light shining through water. It is a beautiful pattern but requires skills to install: The tile contractor had to place the tile and cut radius designs into it.
Because the Mapelastic 315 and the Granirapid System mortar bonded so well to the excellently prepared substrate, the tile crew had to be very careful to ensure that the tile was properly placed. Once the tile was down, it was not coming back up. And this was especially important because the tile was patterned, and the pattern had to match. The finished floor is a true testament to the skill of the Universal Flooring crew.
In addition to the aquatic creatures, tourists, tight scheduling and competing trades, the tile crew had to deal with Mother Nature herself. Crew members experienced the elements of an exterior installation throughout the harshest winter months before the project was completed in April 2020. They had to schedule around winter in Omaha, with some days seeing an average daily high of 43°F (6°C).
However, as MAPEI proved in the very first meeting before it even won the job, teamwork wins the day. The job finished on time and on budget, and zoo officials are very happy with their rejuvenated aquarium. The aquarium’s inhabitants appear to also be happy with their remodeled home.
Visitors will probably remember the beautiful entryway but only as a fleeting start to the aquarium visit, and that is how it should be. They should remember being immersed “underwater” in a world of patterns where light plays through the waves and sea creatures appear and suddenly vanish. They should remember their visit to the Henry Doorly Zoo’s aquarium and wish to return. These memories should begin the moment that they set foot onto the aquarium’s pavers – pavers that were installed with system solutions (and teamwork) from MAPEI.