A contractor for the state will this week begin applying a protective film to glass inside the Museum of Natural Science’s Nature Research Center and the adjoining headquarters of the Department of Environmental Quality to keep the glass from breaking.
It’s the first tangible step to fix a problem that prompted the state to erect scaffolding around the two buildings in September 2014 to protect people from the threat of falling glass. The next phase of the project will entail replacing glass in the front lobbies, the exterior stairwells that adjoin public walkways, and the elevated pedestrian bridges over Salisbury and McDowell streets.
What’s still not clear is who will pay for the work. Applying the film to the interior glass alone will cost an estimated $214,000, said Chris Mears, spokesman for the state Department of Administration, and the state has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars for the scaffolding.
The two buildings are part of the $100 million Green Square project, a showplace of green construction and design that included 5,000 panes of high-efficiency glass designed to minimize the amount of solar heat inside the buildings.
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Individual panes of glass began to fracture in 2012, shortly after the two-block project on Jones Street was completed. By 2014, state officials decided the breaking glass posed a risk to the public and erected the scaffolding to protect walkways, and barriers to keep people 15 feet away from the buildings, in advance of the science museum’s popular BugFest in September of that year.
Tests showed that the fractures were caused by “nickel sulfide inclusions,” a microscopic defect in the glass. Only a small number of panes of glass actually failed, but without remediation, state officials say, there’s no way to know which, if any, will fail next.
State officials announced a strategy for fixing the problem in October that also includes replacing temporary barriers that keep people away from the buildings with permanent ones, as well as landscaping. New canopies will be built over entrances and ramps, as well as the outdoor seating area of the science museum’s Daily Planet Cafe.
It will take workers for the contractor, Barnhill Contracting Company, about three weeks to finish applying the protective laminate to the interior glass, Mears said.
“In some cases this may include the removal of exhibits and equipment,” Mears said. “These repairs will affect occupied office space, museum exhibit space, and event retail space, so scheduling is very challenging.”
It’s not clear yet, Mears said, when the exterior work will begin or when the scaffolding will come down.