In the months since the damage was inflicted, the museum had planned to keep at least part of the sinkhole open as a sort of memorial and tourist attraction so that visitors could see what happened. Unfortunately, it turned out that keeping the hole open would cost the museum more than closing it up. Much more, if you can believe it: instead of the earlier estimates that initially placed the cost of preserving a portion of the sinkhole at around $500,000, the eventual cost estimates rose to over $1 million.
Even if the museum had the funds in order to do so, the visible portion of the sinkhole would still require 35-foot retaining walls, steel beams and other reinforcements (not to mention proper humidity control required to deal with vapors emitted from the hole) that would have defeated the point altogether. So in the end, the board of directors have voted at its quarterly meeting to completely fill it in.
The hole itself, however, is not the only area in which the museum has had to choose between preservation or restoration. General Motors had originally pledged to restore all eight of the Corvette display models damaged in the natural disaster, but following an outpouring of requests from visitors and fans, both Chevy and the museum have opted instead to keep five of the less-damaged Vettes in the same condition in which they were extracted from the sinkhole.
In the end, Chevy will still restore two of the more substantially damaged Corvettes itself – namely the 2009 ZR1 "Blue Devil" prototype and the 1992 C4 convertible that was the millionth Corvette ever made – and will bankroll the restoration of the '62 model to be undertaken off site. The others will stay as they are. So while you may not be able to see the sinkhole for much longer, you'll be able to see at least part of the aftermath in those heavily patina'd cars for the foreseeable future.
After careful review of additional information and revised plans with price quotes from the construction company, the board voted to completely fill in the sinkhole.
"We really wanted to preserve a portion of the hole so that guests for years to come could see a little bit of what it was like, but after receiving more detailed pricing, the cost outweighs the benefit," said Museum Executive Director Wendell Strode. "At the June board meeting, the information available at that time indicated a cost of around $500,000 more to keep the hole, but after incorporating additional safety features and vapor barriers for humidity control, the price tag rose to $1 million more than the cost to put the Skydome back how it was."
Keeping even a portion of the sinkhole would require 35 foot retaining walls to be built inside of the sinkhole, additional micro piling, visible steel beams running through the hole, and soil nailing. All of these additional structural features are to ensure the safety of the sinkhole and prevent cracking and breaking of the sides in the future, which could result in stability issues, but take away from the natural look of the original sinkhole. The board also considered future maintenance issues that could arise if the hole was kept and the possibility that the hole wouldn't look like a naturally occurring sinkhole any longer.
"The interest in our new attraction has been phenomenal so we do plan to leave it 'as-is' through our Vets 'n Vettes event November 6-8, 2014, after which time we will begin the process of remediating and filling the hole," Strode added.
Chevrolet and the National Corvette Museum will restore three of the Corvettes that were damaged when they were swallowed up by the sinkhole.
Chevrolet will restore the 2009 Corvette ZR1 prototype, known as the Blue Devil, and the 1-millionth Corvette produced – a white 1992 convertible. The GM Heritage Center will oversee this process. In addition, the restoration of the 1962 Corvette will be funded by Chevrolet, but will be handled by the National Corvette Museum. A restoration shop has not yet been determined. The remaining five cars were determined to be too badly damaged to warrant restoration. They will remain in their as-recovered state to preserve the historical significance of the cars and what happened on February 12, 2014. They will become part of a future display at the Museum.
In total, General Motors will provide nearly $250,000 in support to help the Museum recover from the sinkhole. The National Corvette Museum celebrates its 20th anniversary this weekend as it welcomes the Corvette enthusiasts nationwide who have helped expand and support the non-profit Museum.
"Our goal was to help the National Corvette Museum recover from a terrible natural disaster by restoring all eight cars," said Mark Reuss, GM Executive Vice President, Global Product Development. "However, as the cars were recovered, it became clear that restoration would be impractical because so little was left to repair. And, frankly, there is some historical value in leaving those cars to be viewed as they are."
It's a sentiment echoed by Corvette enthusiasts from around the globe.
"There has been an outpouring of messages from enthusiasts the world over, asking us not to restore all of the cars," said Wendell Strode, executive director for the National Corvette Museum. "For Corvette enthusiasts, the damage to the cars is part of their history, and part narrative of the National Corvette Museum. Restoring them all would negate the significance of what happened."
Timelines for the start and projected completion dates for the three Corvettes' restorations have not been established. They will be announced later.
On Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, at 5:44 a.m., National Corvette Museum (NCM) personnel received a notification from their security company about motion detectors going off in the Skydome area of the museum. When those personnel arrived on site, a sinkhole was discovered, eventually measuring about 45 feet wide, 60 feet long and up to 30 feet deep.
Security camera footage showing the Skydome floor's collapse has been viewed nearly 8.3 million times on YouTube.
The sinkhole swallowed eight historic Corvettes – two on loan from GM and six owned by the museum:
- 1993 ZR-1 Spyder (on loan)
- 2009 ZR1 "Blue Devil" prototype (on loan)
- 1962 Corvette
- 1984 PPG Pace Car
- 1992 1-millionth Corvette
- 1993 40th Anniversary Corvette
- 2001 "Mallett Hammer" Z06
- 2009 1.5-millionth Corvette.
On March 3, the 2009 Blue Devil was the first car recovered and despite significant damage was started and driven out of the Skydome. The 1.5-millionth Corvette and Mallett Corvette were the last cars pulled from the sinkhole, on April 3 and April 9, respectively – after workers were initially unable to find them amid the collapsed earth.
All eight cars were placed in a special display, fueling a nearly 70-percent jump in museum visitor traffic in the months after the sinkhole appeared.
Construction is expected to take approximately 6 months to complete. The Museum will remain open during the process, and the work in the Skydome will be viewable via a Plexiglas wall.
The Museum plans to create a meaningful sinkhole exhibit within the Skydome, featuring the cars involved, 3D interactive images of the sinkhole, videos, photos and more.
The Museum is located at I-65, exit 28 in Bowling Green, KY - just one hour north of Nashville, TN and less than two hours south of Louisville, KY. Open daily, 8am-5pm CT, admission to the Museum is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors age 65 and over, $5 for kids age 6-16 and children age 5 and under are free. Access to view the sinkhole is included with regular admission. Guests who enter the Skydome to view the sinkhole must be age 8 or older. For more information on the Museum, visit their website at www.corvettemuseum.org or call 800-538-3883.