Coast Guard celebrates start of museum construction
New London ― Coast Guard officials, National Coast Guard Museum Association members, and politicians gathered Friday afternoon at City Pier for a keel-laying ceremony to celebrate the start of construction for the future museum.
Eight years ago there was a ceremonial groundbreaking for the museum but on Friday Mayor Michael Passero’s message was: “It’s happening.”
It was also a reference to the banner hanging on the other side of the train station and the city’s new campaign.
“This is going to be really the crowning jewel of the revitalization of this great seaport city,” he said.
The ceremony marked the first official visit to the future museum site for Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Linda Fagan since she became head of the service June 1. She said the museum “will enable us to tell our story in ways we’ve never been able to before.”
The project cost for the museum was estimated at $80 million in 2014 and is now $150 million. President Joe Biden in March signed a federal funding bill that included $50 million for the museum, bringing total funding to date to $131 million.
Museum association spokesperson Drew Forster said that includes $31 million in private fundraising ― the same figure cited in February ― and the association needs to raise the remaining $19 million.
Forster said the project has all the necessary permits, having received the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit earlier this summer, and he anticipates that bulkhead and fill work will begin in about a week. The construction manager is A/Z Corp. and the architect is Payette.
Forster said construction will begin with in-the-water work, driving sheet piles to extend the land and thus the museum footprint. Phase I is laying the groundwork for construction of the museum and a pedestrian bridge going over the railroad tracks.
Construction is scheduled to finish in 2024.
“This day feels different. It feels really special,” said Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District.
“There were times when people were wondering, after the first anniversary of the authorization by Congress in 2005, if we were ever going to get to this point,” he added.
Courtney said there are 125 military museums in the country but only one listed for the Coast Guard, the one at the Coast Guard Academy, which he noted is “not really a very public space for Americans and visitors to come to.”
The congressman noted that when U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh visited Groton on Tuesday, Walsh noted that the late Massachusetts U.S. Rep. Joe Moakley used to say that the crane is his favorite bird, and Courtney said “we got a lot of cranes that are here in New London.”
State Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner David Lehman said the museum is “just one part of a larger effort to support a renewed vibrancy here in this city,” citing the work at Electric Boat across the river and the State Pier renovation.
Among the attendees were many Coast Guard veterans, and for some, it was a reunion. Two retirees who worked together at an air station in the 80s and 90s bumped into each other, respectively coming to the event from their homes in North Carolina and Willimantic.
Retired Master Chief Petty Officer Vincent W. Patton III recalled when he was active duty in 1999, serving as the senior enlisted member of the Coast Guard, then-Commandant Adm. James Loy summoned him into his office and asked, “What do you think about building a national Coast Guard Museum?”
As evidenced by the two-plus decades since, Patton noted that was easier said than done, with the need to identify a location and identify where to get funding. And being at the ceremony Friday made him emotional.
“In two years when the doors open, I will be even more emotional than I am today,” Patton said. “I cried, because I though back to the 20 years of the toil and efforts.”
The ceremony Friday was also an opportunity for guests to sign the waler, a horizontal support that will go underwater to support the expanded footprint.
“When building a ship, the ‘keel-laying’ is a long-recognized tradition of laying down the ship ‘s backbone to mark the start of construction,” said Master of Ceremonies Cmdr. Krystyn Pecora, external affairs officer at the Coast Guard Academy. “Today we’ll draw from this shipbuilding tradition as we lay a new foundation that will show and tell the Coast Guard’s story into the future.”
The Coast Guard on Friday also presented the Distinguished Public Service Award to Susan Curtin, who has served as chairwoman of the museum association’s board of directors since 2018.
“I naively got involved in this project about seven years ago, along with my father, and I could have never predicted the journey we’d be on,” Curtin said.
Also speaking at the ceremony were Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee.