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Aquarium construction halted, permits never requested

MEDICINE PARK, Okla._Work has been halted after three years of construction on the Medicine Park Aquarium and Natural Sciences Center. That's the result of an order from the state Fire Marshal.

It turns out the building permit that was required from the start of construction was never requested through the state Fire Marshal's Office. Since its ground breaking in 2012, approximately $1.5 million have been put into the structure, as well as the grounds surrounding it. At this point, its completion remains up in the air.

The aquarium's executive director, Doug Kemper, says by next week the plan is to submit a blueprint of the building along with the mechanical, electrical and plumbing drawings showing where those items go. All of those things will need to be reviewed by the state Fire Marshal's Office before construction can resume.

Kemper says there was a misunderstanding and that is why they hadn't filed for the building permit yet.

"I'll just say it must be on my part about the documents, or at least the timing of the documents. I was under the belief that it was an occupancy permit, which generally happens at the end of, or after, construction," Kemper said.

But the state Fire Marshal's Office says there was no misunderstanding on the fire marshal’s part, and that this is nothing new. Building permits have been required for years. Kemper says all they can do is work on landscaping and moving the exhibits around inside the building for now.

"Make sure they are in their final configuration and we are authorized to do that and some other things relating to exhibits inside the building," Kemper said.

The Fire Marshal's Office says building permit reviews are backlogged about six weeks, so it could be more than a month before wiring, plumbing and mechanical work can resume. The news of the delay has trickled down to others in Medicine Park who are counting on the aquarium to boost their businesses.

"As a business owner, we are projecting 125,000 visitors per year," said Mayor Charles Callich, he has also owned Cobblestone Row in Medicine Park for about four years.

He says he built the aquarium into his business plan.

"The longer it takes to open that up, the longer it takes to get those visitors. And as a business owner, we need to make sure we have as many visitors as possible to continue growth in the town," Mayor Callich said.

Mayor Callich predicted on the low end, a 10 percent increase on revenue for Medicine Park business owners when the aquarium opens. He says for the citizens of the town, they just want to put this behind them.

"Let's just get this going forward and get it open. A lot of citizens in this town support it. There is, of course, the handful that don't support it, but we are already this involved in it. We have already invested this much time and effort into it, let's get it going. Let's get it open and move forward," Mayor Callich said.

After getting the building permit, depending on the square footage of the aquarium, the Assistant State Fire Marshal says they might also need a fire alarm permit and a sprinkler system permit. Kemper says he does not believe they will need to install an automatic sprinkler system, but they are required to have a fire alarm.

The state Fire Marshal's Office says if the proper blueprints are given to them in a timely manner, the aquarium won't have to pay a fine for this mistake. However, any unreasonable delays could lead to one.

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