MAPEI’s system solutions provide an impressive detailed installation at a busy aquarium
One of the busiest and most popular zoos in the United States recently updated the entryway, facade and restrooms of its beloved aquarium. Zoo officials wanted something that would not only be durable enough to withstand the foot traffic and spilled food and drinks, but would also be attractive and unusual. They turned to MAPEI for system solutions.
The Suzanne and Walter Scott Aquarium at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium in Omaha, Neb., had been given private funds for a rehab project.
As the largest aquarium inside a zoo, the Scott Aquarium features a 70-ft. (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 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 experience in the exhibit. The organization wanted something with details that went beyond “standard
Tile contractor Universal Flooring, Daltile Omaha, and MAPEI turned this vision into a reality.
MAPEI on the job
Specifications on this extensive remodeling project featured a 12,000-sq.ft. (1 115-m2) aquarium entryway and food-court area for the Sea Turtle Café. The café plans included a 1,000-sq.ft. (92.9 m2) exterior glass-tile facade with waterjet glass forming the words “Sea Turtle Café.”
The entryway and food court area were highlighted by 2,000-sq. ft. (186 m2) of exterior Dekton (ultra-compact, high-performance tile panels) walls. The project also included 7,500 sq.ft. (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 could begin its portion of the project and start work on the floors and walls.
For the greatest efficiency, the tile crews were split 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 during the remodel, so attention to detail and safety (always a top concern) was even more apparent on this project. To remain open, a clear, clean, well-defined path to the doors of the aquarium had to remain visible and accessible. This was no easy task when overhead trades 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 everyone was on the same schedule – and not only for safety. For example, the Universal Flooring crew had to coordinate closely with the concrete contractor so that the latter could cut relief joints in the slab directly under the 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. In addition, MAPEI sales representative and project coordinator Brett Robben pointed out, “The new concrete substrate had slope and drainage designed into it as well, to get water off the slab.
“Surface preparation was performed, and Mapecem Quickpatch was installed,” Robben added. “Then, Mapelastic 315 was applied for crack isolation. 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.
Messing with Mother Nature
In addition to the aquatic creatures, tourists, tight scheduling and competing trades, the tile crew had to deal with Mother Nature herself. They worked on the exterior install throughout the harshest winter months before the project was completed in April 2020. Some days only reached 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 to Omaha’s Suzanne and Walter Scott Aquarium will enjoy a beautiful entryway, installed with pavers using MAPEI system solutions and teamwork, and then be immersed “underwater” in a world of patterns where light plays through the waves and sea creatures appear and suddenly vanish – but their memories of the visit will always remain.