Building the New AMNH Science Center: “My Kids’ Kids’ Kids” Will Visit

Foreman Haloon Hoofah from Queens remembers “riding the yellow bus” and seeing the dinosaurs on his first school trip. Photographs by Margie Smith Holt.

By Margie Smith Holt

The tulips are blooming and construction is booming all around the American Museum of Natural History. Walk around the perimeter on a nice day and you’ll see the workers building the museum’s new science center enjoying their lunchbreak. And along with the spring weather, there’s a noticeable sense of pride in the air.

“I love it! It’s my passion!” said Haloon Hoofah of Ozone Park, Queens. “It’s going to be a monument. It’s going to be here for a very long time. So my son’s kids will probably be coming here.”

A member of the Cement & Concrete Laborers’ Local 20 and foreman for COST of Wisconsin construction services, Hoofah was manning the gate to the construction site when the West Side Rag caught up with him.

‘We’re pretty much responsible for the shotcrete,” he said, explaining the process of spraying rather than pouring concrete. “Instead of the normal pouring of concrete in a bucket, we’re using a hose with the pressure pump to blow out the concrete…this is gonna be a pretty nice piece of work!”

Hoofah’s son is still a baby, too young to visit. “I’ve been here, though,” he added. “My first class trip! Back in the ‘90s.”

Hoofah remembers riding the yellow bus from P.S. 55 in Richmond Hill with his best friend. The boys were excited to see the dinosaurs “because we thought they were live dinosaurs!” he laughed. “We were little kids.”

Construction workers Sylvester Lawrence and Steve Marshall on their lunch break outside the construction site at the AMNH.

Steve Marshall also remembers visiting the museum on a school trip when he was growing up in the Bronx. Now he’s a carpenter, on the job eight months or so, and looking forward to bringing his daughter when the new wing is finished.

“When it’s all open, I can bring her here. And just say, you know what? I did this. I was a part of this.

“I feel really good about it,” Marshall said. “Even when I’m gone, my kids’ kids’ kids [could come here]…And they could say, you know what? My father did this. My dad did this…It will be history and it will be here forever.”

Marshall was having lunch on a bench on Columbus Avenue with his friend Sylvester Lawrence of Brooklyn, a laborer who had been on the job just five days.

“The carpenters drop stuff. We sweep, we clean. Keep the area clean. That is my job. I like it,” said Lawrence. “I would like to see it when it’s finished. It’s going to be very beautiful.”

Wazim Bacchus, a steel laborer from Queens, can’t wait to show his daughter what he’s building.

Wazim Bacchus, a steel laborer from Queens, has also been on the job about eight months.

“I sort out the steel, I carry the steel in for the lathers, and they install it,” he said. “It’s a good site to work on. I mean, it’s part of history…I can bring my kids to this. Other buildings I do, I can’t really go in afterwards.”

Bacchus takes home pictures to show his 6-year-old daughter, Mia, what he’s been working on.

“I’m telling her, OK, Daddy will bring you here so you can see it when it’s finished…She’s just excited to come see what I’ve built!”

The Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation is scheduled to open next winter.

“I’m looking forward to seeing what I’ve done,” Bacchus said. “When it’s all finished, how’s it going to look?

“It’s a lot of hard work we put into this. Can’t wait!”

Neither can we!

ART, NEWS | 10 comments | permalink
    1. George says:

      I hope these guys are able to get a year membership for all of their hard work! Nice article!

    2. JP says:

      Thank you for this human interest spin on this significant change to the AMNH’s space and our neighborhood. Their sense of pride in their work is refreshing and touching. Really appreciate the chance to see the people literally and figuratively behind the construction.

    3. Rudie says:

      Great piece!

    4. Linda E. says:

      I love this article. Wonderful to hear from the people who are working on it. A piece of history.

    5. Carmella Ombrello says:

      Great story. It’s good to hear from people who take pride in their work. I’ve been watching as the building takes shape and love the lively organic shapes of the windows that are visible from the street. Compared to the chilly dull commercialism of the new UWS apartment buildings that are springing up like mushrooms, the Gilder Center is imaginative, and harmonizes surprisingly well with the Victorian hulk it adjoins.

      • Joan Templeton says:

        What a wonderful article! It lifts the spirits during a very difficult time in the world and in our neighborhood.


    6. Wijmlet says:

      I also liked it in my childhood, when it was free and low-tech.

    7. Sarah Kolodny says:

      LOVELY article! Thank you!

    8. Jasmine says:

      Great sticker on the helmet of the header image, lol

    9. AC says:

      Been seeing this project since its birth. The work force here are all professional and I like that they pick-up after themselves. I can tell they enjoy working in the UWS. I constantly see them patronizing the nearby stores on their lunch break. I’m sure Andy’s Deli/shake shack are making a killing. Nice write-up!