Paul E. Garber Facility Emergency Restoration

Recovering the Smithsonian's Treasures
Suitland, Maryland
Smithsonian Institution
Year Completed: 

The Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration, and Storage Facility building belongs to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum and serves as the primary repository for the museum’s irreplaceable artifacts. When its roof collapsed under the weight of a record snowfall, the Smithsonian turned to Clark to stabilize the structure, prevent further damage, and safely recover its artifacts.

Clark Interiors had been working at the Smithsonian’s Museum Support Center on the POD-3 Renovation project and initially received the call for assistance from museum officials. The building’s roof had completely caved in under the weight of the snow and rested on top of high load shelving units and the crates stored on them. This put hundreds of artifacts at risk, including a prototype of the Mars Exploration Rover. To complicate matters, as snow melted and eased the burden on the structure’s roof, the warehouse continued to move as much as two inches. One of the most damaged sections of the building also contained some of the most fragile items. During the collapse, a roof member pierced a specially-controlled environmental chamber for the museum’s 1,200-piece art collection, exposing it to the raw atmospheric conditions and moisture. 

Clark brought in renowned structural emergency specialist Allyn Kilsheimer of KCE Structural Engineers PC to evaluate the Garber building’s damage and design an emergency shoring system to prevent further collapse. After surveying the site with Kilsheimer, Clark used its full breadth of capabilities to shore up the falling facility.

The stabilization effort began with Clark Foundations. Their team welded rakers to columns along the warehouse’s perimeter. For maximum support, the rakers were bolted to adjacent concrete on the ground and anchored by large concrete weights. Clark Concrete then installed 38 high-strength shoring towers that arrived on-site from Georgia less than 48 hours after Clark’s first damage assessment. 

Throughout the shoring process, safety was a primary concern. Clark’s Safety Department developed a site-specific emergency plan shortly after the structural shoring system was devised, and all workers reviewed the plan before the start of work each day. An identification system ensured that each worker was accounted for at all times. A crew of field engineers constantly evaluated the building’s structure for movement, and a wind monitor was set up to alert workers to any sudden gusts or dangerous changes in weather conditions. In addition to these precautions, special equipment, including the Jaws of Life and airbags capable of lifting 20 tons, were brought on-site in case of an emergency. A crane also was erected and placed on stand-by in the event of emergency lifting. 

Clark completed the on-site stabilization efforts over three days. The following week, Smithsonian officials began removing artifacts and collections for relocation. With nearly 100 percent of the items safely recovered, the Smithsonian had the Garber building demolished.