Bowling Green contractor Scott, Murphy and Daniel has been retained as the construction engineer to help the National Corvette Museum recover and rebuild after a sinkhole in the SkyDome early today resulted in eight cars falling into the hole.
Museum Executive Director Wendell 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.
Jason Polk, professor of geography and geology at Western Kentucky University, said Wednesday afternoon that he believes the collapsed sinkhole to be an isolated event.
"We haven't seen any activity or movement since this morning," Polk said. "It seems the majority of the collapse has taken place."
Polk has been part of a group of WKU students, faculty, museum employees, Bowling Green Fire Department members and state environmental officials who have spent the better part of the day inside the SkyDome assessing the damage and evaluating the situation.
Security footage from inside the SkyDome at the time of the collapse was uploaded to the museum's YouTube page and its website. The footage shows the floor of the affected area sagging suddenly, with pieces of the floor collapsing and a couple of the cars disappearing into the ground below.
Wendell Strode, executive director of the National Corvette Museum, said the museum's exhibit hall will reopen Thursday after structural engineers on site at the sinkhole determined that the area was secure.
The museum closed today after a sinkhole developed and swallowed eight iconic Chevrolet Corvettes in the museum's Skydome.
At an early afternoon news conference, Strode said he will consult with structural engineers and experts from Western Kentucky University to determine how or whether to go about recovering the eight Corvettes.
Strode believes he will know within a few days the total cost of damage at the site.
"Every car has a story behind it," Strode said. "There's been tears shed back there this morning."
Jason Polk, a professor of geology and geography at Western Kentucky University, was called by the city to examine the sinkhole.
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.
The Bowling Green Fire Department estimated the sinkhole to be about 25 to 30 feet deep and about 40 feet wide.
WKU civil engineering professor Matt Dettman said that while the wall of the sinkhole may develop a bit farther from the Skydome, the overall structure of the building appears to be stable.
WKU mechanical engineering students constructed a Quadcopter that will take video footage of the site for further assessment.
"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.
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 observed.
"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., had been 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 this morning by what had happened overnight.
"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.
Dempze was glad to see his car was still in one piece and said it was fortunate no one was at the museum when the collapse occurred.
"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 out."
Collapse at National Corvette Museum sends cars into sinkhole
A sinkhole opened today beneath the National Corvette Museum and swallowed eight cars on display.
A structural engineer was at the museum this morning consulting with Bowling Green Fire Department and museum officials.
Museum Executive Director Wendell Strode and others were in the Skydome, where the collapse occured.
The museum is closed for the day, according to its website at corvettemuseum.org.
The Skydome is a yellow, cone-shaped dome, where cars are on display at the museum.
Jason Polk, a geography and geology assistant professor at Western Kentucky University, viewed the collapse.
Sinkholes such as these aren't uncommon in the area, given the karst landscape, but it is unusual to see something like this affect the Corvette museum, he said.
"The city is well-versed in sinkholes," Polk said.
He estimated the sinkhole to be about 30 feet deep and 40 feet wide.
Elsewhere on the property, utility workers were checking feeds into the building to make sure they haven't been impacted.
There was no word this morning on the value of the vehicles that plunged into the hole. Two of the vehicles were on loan from General Motors, and the other six were owned by the museum. Most of the museum's vehicles are on loan from collectors around the world.
"As it started happening, it triggered an alarm, so the security company called an employee," Strode said.
The alarm, which was triggered at 5:38 a.m., also resulted in a call to the fire department. The building's security camera in the area went down at the time of the collapse, he said.
“As best as I can see, it is about as big as the pedestal area where we had the cars displayed," Strode said.
The Skydome is part of the original museum, which was completed in 1994. The museum is set to celebrate its 20th anniversary in September.
Strode said nothing can be done about the cars until the structural engineer completes his evaluation.
This is the first incidence of a sinkhole on the property, Strode said.
"This is going to be an interesting situation," Strode said.
Almost all of the cars that weren't affected by the sinkhole have been removed from the skydome, according to Katie Frassinelli, marketing and communications maanger.
An insurance adjuster is headed to the museum to assess values of the vehicles and the damage. Frassinelli said she was thankful that this didn't occur during visiting hours.
"Sinkholes can be unpredictable, so we are trying to make sure that everyone is safe," she said. "A lot of Corvette enthusiasts have called and offered messages of support."
News of the collapse has created a firestorm in social media. Hundreds of tweets have been sent out in reponse.
Word spread quickly this morning after @joeimel tweeted out information following a scanner call. Nearly 100 more tweets followed. Here is what a few people had to say:
@cnnbrk: That really stinks. I love Corvette cars!
@JoEllenZacks: Sinkhole swallowing #CorvetteMuseum in Bowling Green. Locusts. raining frogs not far behind
@Peggy_Riley: We have broken greenhouses. Kentucky has this. RT @cnnbrk: Cars fall into sinkhole at National Corvette Museum.
@11Mexico: A sinkhole collapsed part of the National Corvette Museum ..
@clayb116: I really wish this sink hole at the corvette museum was an Ocean 11/Italian Job type robbery instead of a natural environmental event.
@chelseapmanders: @ETCanada: @carrieunderwood tells @peoplemag her last splurge was a Corvette.
— For updates on this story, visit bgdailynews.com.