San Jose, CA-based Blach Construction recently took part in a “kelp” ribbon cutting ceremony to mark the completion of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s new 25,500 sq-ft Bechtel Family Center for Ocean Education and Leadership.

The $42-million project, designed by MCA Architects, is located on Monterey’s busy Cannery Row. Given this highly-active location, along with the city’s stringent environmental regulations, Blach’s in-house virtual design and construction team had their hands full. To assist in this challenging environment, they employed modeling software such as Trimble Connect and Tekla Structures. The team also used Farro Scene, Revit, and various Autodesk platforms to compile the coordinated construction model.

Kevin McIntosh, Blach project executive, told me spatial coordination was particularly challenging.

“Structural limitations, tight floor-to-floor conditions, size and function of the building systems, as well as the open concept of the building's architecture all contributed to very little room to house the building systems,” he said. “The use of BIM and many hours of coordination between the architectural, engineering and construction teams to work out the solutions in a virtual environment prior to construction proved to be pivotal in the success of the project. It truly is a testament to how the use of technology within a collaborative process can significantly influence the outcome of a project.”

The sustainable project, which broke ground in March 2017, features a living rooftop with innovative catch-basins that off-set storm water runoff down through its complex filtration and critical life support systems infrastructure. The four-story concrete and glass Bechtel Education Center includes four learning laboratories, collaborative teaching and office space, and a fourth-floor event space with a native plant roof garden.

One of the most unique project features is a complex seawater / aquatic life support system designed to the Monterey Bay Aquarium's standard of care. “This system is designed to provide chemical, temperature and nutrient specific conditions to the seawater that will fill the eight aquarium tanks within the building,” says McIntosh. “This system includes two holding tanks for fresh and discharged seawater, as well a complex array of filtrations and treatment systems all required to replicate the conditions of the Bay and ensure that aquatic life has a safe and healthy living environment.”  

The new facility also features a street-level exhibit gallery that is free to the public, and learning laboratories that boast eight, 200-gallon saltwater tanks operating as part of a closed system used to maintain the correct temperature and living conditions for the intertidal creatures occupying them.

Designed to achieve LEED Gold certification, the Bechtel Education Center incorporates natural ventilation and light to maximize Indoor Environmental Quality and minimize energy usage, water systems designed for efficiency, and supplemental solar PV panel and energy storage battery arrays that manage power usage at peak times and serve as emergency back-up in the event of a power outage.

Wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council was used on the project. Fire-treated western red cedar was carefully chosen for the building’s exterior, while sound-reducing, rift sawn white oak was installed in its interior. Furthermore, the project team was able to divert more than 75% of waste through sorting and separating.

The center significantly expands capacity for the Aquarium’s education and youth development programs and enables all of the 80,000 students who visit annually to participate in programs led by the Aquarium’s team of ocean education specialists.