The scaffolding around the Nature Research Center at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences in downtown Raleigh is finally coming down.
The state erected the scaffolding and other barriers around two buildings on Jones Street three years ago to protect visitors to the annual BugFest from the risk of falling glass. A handful of the thousands of glass windows in the Green Square project had developed cracks, and the state wanted to make sure no one got hurt.
Now as new permanent canopies are being installed, some of the scaffolding is coming down in time for this year’s BugFest on Saturday.
The Daily Planet Cafe in the Nature Research Center will be able to offer outdoor seating under a new canopy that would protect patrons in the unlikely event that a window breaks above. Tables and chairs for about 80 patrons have been in storage at the museum since the scaffolding went up three years ago, said Dean Ogan of Rocky Top Hospitality, the company that runs the restaurant.
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“It’s been a bummer not having that beautiful seating, especially during the nice times of the year,” Ogan said Thursday. “But we’re super happy to have it coming just in time for fall.”
And in time for BugFest, which draws thousands to the science museum one Saturday each September. It was with those crowds in mind that state officials erected the scaffolding just before BugFest 2014.
The museum’s Nature Research Center and the headquarters of the state Department of Environmental Quality make up the Green Square complex, a $100 million showcase of green building techniques and materials completed in 2012. A short time later, some of the 5,000 panes of glass on the external walls and lining many internal walls, stairways and balconies began to develop cracks.
Tests showed that the cracks were caused by “nickel sulfide inclusions,” a microscopic defect in the glass. Only a small number of the windows developed cracks. But without any way of predicting which ones would fail next, the scaffolding and barriers have remained while the state worked on a permanent fix.
Last year, workers replaced some internal panes of glass and covered others with a protective film. Now, as workers install new awnings and canopies outside the buildings, the scaffolding will slowly come down, said Mark Edwards, the deputy secretary of the Department of Administration.
Earlier this year, the state construction office was working with a budget of $2.7 million that covered roughly three years of scaffolding rental, planning and design work and construction of awnings over the most highly trafficked public areas outside the two buildings. More money and planning was expected to be needed for the employee entrances and the rear portions of the buildings.
Gov. Roy Cooper’s proposed budget this year included $4 million for the canopies at Green Square, but that money was not included the final budget approved by the legislature. State officials have considered seeking compensation from the glass manufacturers and suppliers or the companies that chose the glass and installed it.
But Edwards said the state has determined that the windows and other materials meet state building codes and that he thinks the state will have to cover the costs.
Meanwhile, workers have restored outdoor seating for about 80 people at the Daily Planet Cafe. Ogan says he wishes the scaffolding never had to go up, but he’s glad the state didn’t rush to find a solution.
“It seems to me that it was a pretty complex problem and it was a public safety issue,” he said. “And I think that the folks in charge decided to make sure that the fix they put into place was the right one and that it was going to be aesthetically pleasing.”