Not many elementary school students get to quiz the builders of the newest Smithsonian museum on everything from the building’s height, how many people worked on it and the hardest part of their job — but that’s just what about 100 third- through sixth-graders at Ardmore Elementary School in Springdale did Friday afternoon.
“How many people will work on the project?”
“How tall is the building?”
“What’s the hardest part of your job?”
Representatives from the three companies — Clark Construction, H.J. Russell and Company, and Smoot Construction — partnering to build the National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., answered questions from students who watched the museum’s groundbreaking ceremony in February and then researched the construction companies.
Between 800 and 1,000 people will work on the 323,000-square foot museum when construction is in full swing, project managers and engineers said during the question-and-answer session at the end of Ardmore Elementary’s annual career day.
The five-story building will rise almost 100 feet above ground — and go 70 feet below ground, the project managers said. And the hardest part of working in construction is meeting deadlines.
“This museum will not only educate Americans about the part African-Americans have played in this country’s history but we hope it inspires young people to be the next Rosa Parks, Muhammad Ali,” said Chrystal Stowe, Smoot’s director of business development and community relations. “All of that is possible.”
Stowe said representatives from Smoot visit colleges more often than elementary schools, but she wanted to show students that the construction industry encompasses a gamut of careers, beyond carpentry and plumbing to computer technology and law.
Julian Thomas, a third-grade student who wants to be a professional basketball or football player, said he is excited to visit the museum when it opens in 2015 to see the exhibits on athletes including baseball player Jackie Robinson and basketball legend Michael Jordan.
“[The museum] talks about our history,” said Julian, an 8-year-old from Springdale. “Even though something is really old, it can be fun.”
Julian’s mother, Beverly Thomas, works as a subcontractor with the Bethesda-based Clark Construction, and asked if the company would be willing to give the students a virtual tour of the museum. Engineers and project managers obliged, showing students animations of the tiered exterior of the building as well as some of the exhibits featuring civil rights leaders, musicians, athletes and civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr. and Louis Armstrong.
Ardmore Elementary students will take a field trip to the museum in about three years, said Rachelle Jackson, the school counselor who helped to organize the career day.
“I want to see things about famous people,” said third-grader Jakeria Spriggs, 9, of Springdale.
The interactive and child-friendly museum — and the people featured within its walls — “hits home” with the primarily African-American student body at Ardmore Elementary, Thomas said.
“These are people that had struggles and achieved great things,” she said of what students could learn from the museum. “Do not use being minority anything as a crutch.”