Update From the CEO: Our Future in Washington, DC

Published September 27, 2013

by John Racanelli, Chief Executive Officer

As a friend or follower of the National Aquarium, you probably know about the nation’s original aquarium, located since 1932 in the U.S. Department of Commerce headquarters in Washington, DC.

When the building (now called the Herbert C. Hoover Building) opened, one of its unique features was that it housed the fledgling National Aquarium, which had been operated in one form or another by the Fisheries Service since 1873. In its 140 years of existence, the National Aquarium, Washington, DC, has had a long and illustrious history.

Yet, due to major renovations to the Commerce building, the Aquarium must vacate its current space and close on September 30. When that wing of the Commerce building reopens in two years, the space will be taken up by a new pedestrian mall to provide better access to the Ronald Reagan building across 14th Street, NW. Although our Aquarium will welcome its last guest next week, its legacy and role in the capital are far from over. More on that in a minute.

The process of closing an aquarium is neither easy nor quick. It began months ago, with a careful assessment of every animal and plant in the facility. Staff then developed detailed plans for transferring 1,700 of the 2,500 animals to our Animal Care Center in Baltimore; homes were found for the remaining 800 animals at other accredited institutions.

Over the next six weeks, our Animal Care staff will be concentrating on transporting these animals safely and securely to their new homes, where all will continue to educate and inspire the public. National Aquarium, Washington, DC, staff members have been offered positions at our aquarium in Baltimore or at other facilities, while others will be given support for finding new work. Pumps, filters, acrylic windows, holding tanks and a host of other equipment must be inventoried, disassembled and reused or recycled. In total, it will take at least three months to demobilize a facility that has been hosting visitors for 81 years.

It is for that reason that we are unequivocally committed to a National Aquarium presence in the nation's capital. The closing of our historic, but aging, facility opens new doors even as old ones close. We have recently embarked on a strategic plan process, called BLUEprint, to identify feasibility and potential uses for a new facility in the capital. Over the next six months, our team will work with expert planners and designers from Studio Gang Architects and IMPACTS Research & Development to establish exactly what form any future endeavors should take. Knowing the talents that this team brings to bear, I am confident that our future in the capital will do justice to the legacy of the nation’s longest continuously operating aquarium.

So many individuals and organizations have supported the National Aquarium, Washington, DC: a passionate Board of Directors, the District of Columbia government, our dedicated partners in both the public and private sectors, visiting teachers and students and a terrifically committed staff—each has helped to shape this next stage in the National Aquarium’s long journey. I offer my heartfelt thanks to each and every one of them.

I look forward to sharing our future plans with you as they take shape. Visit aqua.org/dc for the latest news and information about the big move, new plans and next steps. As always, thank you for your interest, support and connection.

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John Racanelli

Chief Executive Officer

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