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Shipyard designs flood gates for Virginia Living Museum

Newport News Shipbuilding designs new flood gates for the Virginia Living Museum

It took many hours of trial and error, but the Virginia Living Museum now has new flood gates, thanks to the efforts and generosity of Newport News Shipbuilding, a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries (NYSE:HII).

“This project certainly was a reminder that designing/engineering/building ships and designing/engineering/building flood mitigation systems are completely different. But we had some really good folks working on this project and it was a learning experience for everyone,” said David Orie, Newport News Shipbuilding design engineering manager for Nuclear Propulsion-Overhaul Engineering and shipyard lead on the project.

The three gates were dedicated March 13 during a brief ceremony at the museum.

The museum turned to the shipyard after water from a flash flood poured over three-foot-high flood gates, damaging the lower level exhibits, classrooms and offices, in August 2012.

VLM Deputy Director Fred Farris said the original flood gates were designed to protect the museum from a 100-year storm.

“The old gates were very heavy panels. Several staff members had to carry each gate over to the door and slide them into a groove in the concrete. The gates were not designed for daily use but rather to be positioned in advance of a predicted storm.

“We were lucky on the day of the big flood – an employee woke up, noticed how heavy the rain was falling, came to the museum and got other staff to help him position the three flood gates. The lake rose so high and so fast, with 8” of rain in three hours (more like a 1000-year storm) that water rose over the gates and flooded the entire lower level. Had those gates not been in position we would have had 3 feet of water in the lower level instead of 6 inches.”

Farris said the museum approached “Newport News Shipbuilding to design/fabricate a new system of flood gates that could be easily closed by one staff person. That way during flood season, we can incorporate the flood gates into the museum’s evening closing routine.”

The shipyard began work on the project in September 2013. The design team, led by Orie, included Gene Bowman, Newton Claiborne, Shane Gardner, Lee McBee and Mary McDermott.

McBee and production leaders Jim Cochran and Rusty Johnson “spent time on-site during the installation and testing evolutions ensuring that this project was completed within budget and time constraints,” Orie said.
Farris said “NNS engineers came out numerous times to assess our existing flood gates, take measurements and review options with museum staff. Once we agreed on a new design, then various departments at the shipyard were involved in the fabrication of the gates. After a prototype gate was made, the NNS shop foreman water tested the gate more than 10 times, each time tweaking the fabrication details and changing the water sealing gasket material. Finally, they reached a design that was watertight. Two more gates were then installed and put in position. So the VLM now has all three lower level exits protected by gates that can easily and quickly be rolled into position.”

“The new gates are heavy but mounted on wheels. The gates stay positioned adjacent to the back exits at all times. To close them, one staff person can unlatch the gate, easily roll it into position and crank it down into a water sealing gasket material,” Farris said.

The fabrication and installation team included Bonnie Babb, Rodney Beltz, Robert Hakes, James Hines, Garland Langhorne, William Michaelis, Duke Mitchell, Thomas Spikes, Paul K. Taylor, Mitchell Turner and Anthony West.

“In addition, the NNS flood gate team designed and fabricated three larger metal panels that can be positioned outside the three exit doors during a major flood. The force of the incoming flood water will push the panels against the door frames giving a watertight seal and protect the building to a flood height at least a foot higher than the new roll up gates. So the VLM can now be protected to a flood height well beyond the 100-year flood event height. Had this double panel system been in place during the big flood, no flood water would have entered the building,” Farris said.

The museum’s lower level was closed for three months following the August 2012 flood. The reconstruction included several changes to flooring, cabinets and office furniture to make it easier and quicker for the museum to dry out after any future flood. The museum also installed a monitoring system in Deer Park Lake to alert staff to water level rise.

For more information call 757-595-1900 or visit


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