Plans for removing the eight Corvettes that fell into a collapsed sinkhole at the National Corvette Museum's Skydome were announced Thursday afternoon.

Mike Murphy, CEO of Bowling Green firm Scott, Murphy and Daniel, which is the construction manager over the project, said that work on stabilizing and securing the sinkhole to prepare for the removal of the vehicles is anticipated to begin in the next 24-48 hours.

Murphy and museum officials met this morning with structural, civil and geotechnical engineers to plan the recovery process.

Stabilizing the affected area could take two to three weeks before the Corvettes can begin to be retrieved.

Once the retrieval process begins, it may take four to six days to remove each car from the collapsed sinkhole, Murphy said.

Murphy said the structure of the Skydome was sound and the foundation systems of the building are such that they will be secured during the rebuilding process.

After the Corvettes are removed, they will be taken to the General Motors Technical Center in Warren, Mich., where they will be restored, according to new Bowling Green Assembly Plant manager Jeff Lamarche.

Ed Welburn, GM's vice president of global design, will oversee the design work involved in restoring the vehicles, Lamarche said.

— For more details, read Friday's Daily News.

National Corvette Museum reopens, prepares for rebuilding process

A day after a sinkhole opened at the National Corvette Museum and swallowed eight classic cars, museum officials are going about the rebuilding process.

The Corvette Skydome, the yellow cone with the red spire where the sinkhole occurred Wednesday, will be closed until further notice, but the remaining unaffected exhibit area reopened this morning after museum staff decided to close all but the lobby area to the public Wednesday.

“The National Corvette Museum has overcome adversity before, and we’ll overcome again,” museum Executive Director Wendell Strode said. 

Bowling Green contractor Scott, Murphy and Daniel has been retained as construction engineer to help the National Corvette Museum recover and rebuild from the sinkhole, which has been estimated to measure 40 feet wide and 25-30 feet deep.

Strode said the firm will help devise a plan to recover the cars.

“Safety will be paramount, but we will also want to save the cars as fast as we can,” Strode said.

Of the eight cars, Strode said the black 1962 Corvette – the oldest one in the hole – may be the easiest one to reach and extract.

Strode said he was told by someone at the scene that the fallen cars had an estimated value of $1 million.

Scott, Murphy and Daniel CEO Mike Murphy arrived at the museum Wednesday afternoon.

No firm timetables have been set for repairing the Skydome or recovering the vehicles, but Murphy said he knew it would be important to operate quickly and safely.

“We want to get a team of professionals assembled and go through everything,” Murphy said. “Reconstructing (the Skydome) and getting it back in its final condition will be our ultimate goal.”

For his part, Strode expressed confidence that the contracting firm could complete its work by the end of August, in time for the 20th anniversary celebration of the museum and the projected opening of the NCM Motorsports Park.

“We’ll have something spectacular to show you back there in short order,” Strode said.

The Skydome houses vintage and newer models of Corvettes on loan from private owners, and cars made famous through their unique history. 

About 25 cars were in the Skydome at the time of the collapse. The unaffected Corvettes were moved to a secure area on the museum campus.

Jason Polk, professor of geography and geology at Western Kentucky University, said he believes the collapsed sinkhole to be an isolated event.

“We haven’t seen any activity or movement since this morning,” Polk said Wednesday afternoon. “It seems the majority of the collapse has taken place.”

Polk, who was called to the site to examine the sinkhole, was part of a group that included WKU students, faculty, museum employees, Bowling Green Fire Department members, utility workers and state environmental officials who spent the better part of the Wednesday inside the Skydome assessing the damage and evaluating the situation.

Museum staff were notified of the collapse at 5:44 a.m. Wednesday after being contacted by the museum’s security company about motion detectors going off in the Skydome.

Security footage from inside the Skydome at the time of the collapse was uploaded to the museum’s YouTube page and its website Wednesday afternoon. 

Two 49-second clips show a portion of the collapse from two angles.

The video shows the floor of the affected area buckling and sagging suddenly, with one piece of the floor directly underneath a car collapsing a few seconds later and at least two cars disappearing into the ground below after more of the floor gave way. The two clips garnered nearly 1.6 million views combined as of this morning.

The museum also posted footage on its website shot from inside the hole by a camera mounted to a drone helicopter brought to the site by WKU’s engineering department.

Six of the cars in the sinkhole are owned by the museum, and the other two are on loan from General Motors.

The affected cars include a 1992 Corvette that was the millionth Corvette to come off the assembly line, the 1993 ruby red 40th anniversary Corvette and a 2009 white Corvette that was the 1.5 millionth car off the line.

“Every car has a story behind it,” Strode said Wednesday. “There’s been tears shed back there this morning.”

Polk said sinkholes are not unusual for this region, given its massive underground cave system, but it is noteworthy to see a sinkhole develop at the museum’s Skydome.

Research should determine whether recent rainy, damp weather or another factor caused this sinkhole, according to Polk.

“We’ve been staying back and making sure that people are safe because that’s our primary concern at this point,” Polk said Wednesday.

WKU civil engineering professor Matt Dettman said that the overall structure of the dome appears to be stable.

“We normally don’t find sinkholes inside buildings,” Dettman said. “We normally find them outside, where there’s a lot of drainage, runoff and surface water.”

Much of southcentral Kentucky lies on a karst landscape that is susceptible to the development of sinkholes, which are created when underground water erodes soft limestone or enlarges cracks in the stone, causing the ground above to sink. When there is not enough support for the land from underneath, a collapse can result. 

Dettman said that this particular sinkhole may have been developing for years prior to its collapse early Wednesday morning. 

He considered it among the “largest 5 percent” of sinkholes he has seen.

“It could have happened at a much worse location ... because it’s not undermining any significant foundations and no one was here at the time,” Dettman said.

Chance Mayfield of Louisville provided one of the cars on display in the Skydome – a 1965 Corvette that was stolen from him 39 years ago in Nashville and recovered two years ago in Arizona.

Mayfield, a jeweler who has owned 27 Corvettes, said he was relieved to learn from museum staff that his car was safe and in a secure location.

He drove to the museum shortly after a friend called him to give him the news about the sinkhole.

“I thought he was pulling my leg at first,” Mayfield said. “It’s a survivor – it’s survived being stolen and now it’s survived a sinkhole.”

Gary Dempze of Rudolph, Wisc., was scheduled to arrive at the museum Wednesday to pick up the black 2014 Stingray that he won several months ago in a raffle in Effingham, Ill., to benefit a Catholic church there.

While Dempze’s $100 ticket paid off, he was jolted by what had happened at the Skydome.

“I got up, saw the news and was totally shocked to hear about it,” said Dempze, who was at the museum with a group of people to pick up his car and was able to drive it home Wednesday afternoon. 

Dempze was glad to see his car was still in one piece and said it was fortunate no one was at the museum during the collapse.

“I love the museum and the uniqueness of the Corvette,” Dempze said. “I’m looking forward to coming back to the museum this year and going through it and seeing how they’ve straightened it out.”

— Follow courts reporter Justin Story on Twitter at twitter.com/jstorydailynews or visit bgdailynews.com.

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