Center in the Square Truly Magnificent

The Living Reef at Center in the Square
The 8,000 gallon living reef aquarium at Center in the Square. The longer you watch it the more life you see.

The through the Glass Blog was updated almost daily as the Center in the Square Aquarium build neared completion.  Then we got busy maintaining said aquariums and writing became less important.

These aquariums, on the ground floor, first and foremost are free to the public.  You can walk into the lobby anytime Center is open and enjoy the aquariums as long as you like.  The same is true for the koi pond on the 6th floor, which is a beautiful, green roof.

When you walk in the you will likely be drawn to the 8,000 gallon living reef.  Spend some time watching and you will begin to notice life everywhere.  There are crabs, fireworms, corals, shrimp, an urchin and of course the beautiful fish.

Then walk over to see the jellyfish exhibit, which bookends the seahorse aquarium.  After you allow yourself to be mesmerized by the jellies, get up close to the seahorse display and once again, you will find all sorts of living surprises hiding in the rocks.

Jellyfish and seahorse aquarium at Center in the Square
The beautiful moon jellyfish display on either side of the seahorse aquarium.

Under the stairs is the Roanoke River exhibit.  All of the fish and even the rocks and driftwood came from the Roanoke River.  There are some amazingly beautiful fish in the Roanoke river, but you would never be able to see them if they were not in an aquarium.

Around the corner from the Roanoke River tank is the Turtles of Virginia exhibit — quickly becoming a crowd favorite.  The Map turtle, three painted turtles and the red-eared slider seem to love it when people crowd around.

Roanoke River Aquarium
The Roanoke River Aquarium at Center in the Square. EVerything inside came from the River.

For the team at Carlin Aquarium Systems, working in conjunction with Reef Aquaria Design of Coconut Creek, Fla, it is gratifying to watch the public enjoying the aquariums.

We hope you enjoy them as much as we do.

Center in the Square Re-Opens — Public Approves.

May 18, 2013 was a pretty good day to be an aquarium guy.

Ribbon cutting
Children representing local arts organizations and non-profits cut the ribbon to officially re-open Center in the Square.

Dignitaries spoke, children representing local arts organizations cut a ribbon, and thousands of people flooded into the atrium of Center in the Square — where the Living Reef, Jellyfish, Seahorse, Roanoke Logperch and Turtles of Virginia aquariums were waiting for them.  It was the first chance to see the reaction of the public at large since I first began consulting on the aquarium project in 2008.  It was more rewarding than I could ever describe.

Dr. Jim Sears
Dr. Jim Sears addresses the crowd at the re-opening ceremony.

I texted Jeff Turner, President of Reef Aquaria Design in Coconut Creek Florida, whose company designed and whose team installed the aquariums.  He called me right back.  “You should be seeing this.” I told him.  “The atrium is full and people are loving the aquariums.”  Jeff had been living here along with his crew from about a month prior to the opening and had just returned home for some well-earned R-and-R.  He is one of just a few people in the country who could have created such world class public aquariums, and I wanted him to know how people were reacting to his work.  To a person, they were loving it.

John Carlin Through the Glass
Ben took this picture of me through the blue lights of the Living Reef.

As a member of Center’s Tank Team volunteers, I happily stood by the Reef aquarium answering a few questions, but mostly watching the people as they watched the fish, and the corals, and the hermit crabs and the cleaner shrimp and everything else happening in the aquarium.  It was rewarding to see people realize that the longer they watched — the more they saw, and the more drawn-in they were to the world on the other side of the 2 1/2″ of acrylic.

Across the room, the seahorses were the favorites of many, and the jellies held people in awe as they tried to figure out what makes these brainless and spineless — yet very much alive creatures — tick.

Center opening
The public enters Center in the Square moments after opening. Center had been closed for more than two years.

Another woman told me how happy she was that we included the Roanoke River aquarium, so children could “learn about the ocean, but our own river too.” Thank you for that.  It was my thought exactly.  For the record, we don’t yet have the required permit to house the endangered Roanoke Logprech in that aquarium.  Eventually we will not only add the logperch — but many educational materials, so people can understand and appreciate the river they largely take for granted.

The Turtles of Virginia — I must admit are more engaging than I ever imagined.  They have acclimated well to life at Center.  They come to the glass and beg for food, almost like a dog.  They swim and climb on the unique piece of driftwood we collected from the riverbank, and have become an instant crowd favorite.

Living Reef
The Living Reef at Center. Everything in the aquarium is alive.

The public’s reaction to the aquariums — which by the way are free to the public all of the time Center is open — could not have been better.  A great day for a fish geek.

Center in the Square Gala, One Heck of a (fish) Party.

Tank Team
John Carlin, Jeff Turner and Ben Carlin pose in front of the Steel Dynamics Living Reef.

It was hard work, but we made it.  The crew from Reef Aquaria Design, working 12 hour days, weekends and everything in-between presented complete and well stocked aquariums well in advance of the fantastic black-tie Center in the Square gala on Saturday night.  It was an invitation-only advance viewing of all the work that has been done over the past two years — from the new lobby, to the green roof and all the museums in-between.

Atrium Crowd
The atrium was standing room only.

Women in beautiful dresses and men in tuxedos moved through the atrium while jellyfish pulsed in the two tall cylinder aquariums, seahorses looked out by the gift shop, turtles swam or perched on a log, native Roanoke River Fish darted among driftwood, and the living reef glowed with hundreds of colorful fish as corals waved int he current.

It was a wonderful night and the beginning of yet another chapter in the life of downtown Roanoke.

Ben Carlin
Ben Carlin of Carlin Aquarium Systems

I was especially proud of the reef aquarium, while the attendees surprised the aquarium crew with their interest in the Turtles of Virginia exhibit.

Joleen and Jeff Turner
Jeff Turner, president of Reef Aquaria Design and his wife, Joleen.

The Aquariums are settling in to the cycling process and Carlin Aquarium Systems is now monitoring water parameters, feeding the fish and keeping the glass free of algae.  This weekend (May 18 & 19, 2013) the public will get it’s first opportunity to experience the new Center in the Square as it re-opens officially after the 27-million dollar renovation project.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte
Rep. Bob Goodlatte gets a tank tour.

I plan to be on hand a good part of the day on both Saturday and Sunday to answer questions and really, to anxiously watch the public with the hope that the aquariums are as popular as we believe they will be.

Turtles, Seahorses and Jellyfish (and a Piano) in the House.

Map Turtle
The Center in the Square Map Turtle minutes after its release into the turtle habitat.
Map Turtle
Map Turtle at Center in the Square.


Just over an hour ago Ben Carlin and I released three turtles into the turtle exhibit at Center in the square.  Two painted turtles and a much larger map turtle are happily exploring their new home.  They seem to have acclimated well to the people in their midst, and contractors construction workers and volunteers already seemed to have bonded with them.  Safe to say that 90 minutes into their new life the turtles are already a popular attraction.

Yesterday I wrote about how the lobby/atrium here at Center was an ant farm in terms of activity.  Today it’s twice as bad.  (or good).


A seahorse swims in the Center Seahorse exhibit.

Volunteers have begun arriving to set up tables for the gala.  A group of high school kids, recently completed hanging an arts and crafts mermaid from the ceiling, and a crew just showed up wanting to set up the baby grand piano for the Saturday night Gala.  They had to wait, however, for the crew to finish polishing the floor.

Amidst all of this our aquarium crews have made steady progress.  The RAD team is close to finishing the plumbing for jellyfish aquariums.  It’s tight work under two massive cylinders, but J.R. Corvison assures me there will be water in them by the end of the day.  I’m pretty sure the FedEx guy just walked by with a box full of aqua-cultured jellyfish.  Will let you know when I confirm.

Jellyfish aquariums
Pete Diaz of Miami works on the plumbing for the jellyfish aquariums at Center in the square.

Quietly the seahorses were released about a day ago.  They are getting quite a show from the humans outside their domain, but seem happy and well adjusted.

Gorgonian at Center in the Square.

The living reef received a nice

upgrade yesterday as Jeff Turner used a long handled set of “grippers” to plant some huge gorgonians (corals) in the rock.  This completed the filling of some of the vertical space in the aquarium, and seems to have made the fish even happier in their space.

Later today we will release some of the chubs, darters, shiners and other native fish from the Roanoke River Logperch aquarium.  We won’t be able to add the actual logperch until the system stabilizes and we receive our permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to house an endangered species.

All in all — things are hectic but on target.

Divers, Turtle wood and Now, Jellyfish

Joey Turner, diver.
Joey Turner of Reef Aquaria Design emerges from a dive in Center’s Reef Aquarium.

As I’m writing, it’s just after ten in the morning on Wednesday.  The Center in the Square Grand Affair, is Saturday evening.  Huge progress came yesterday, but there are still significant hurdles for the aquarium exhibits, and in front of me there are so many workers that Center’s lobby looks like an ant farm.

News Conference
Roanoke Mayor David Bowers addresses the crowd during the news conference announcing the re-opening of Center in the Square.

The Roanoke Times, Channel 7 and Channel 10 had excellent coverage of yesterday’s news conference announcing the re-emergence of Center from its two years of dormancy.  The aquariums received their fair share of of the ink and air time — thanks in part to Joey Turner’s historic first scuba venture into the living reef aquarium.  He dove twice — once to clean the glass, and a second time to plant the corals which will eventually grow and become a dominant feature of the reef.

Ben Carlin, Carlin Aquarium Systems
Ben Carlin of Carlin Aquarium Systems uses a chainsaw to trim a huge piece of driftwood for the Turtle tank.

Overnight the two jellyfish “tubes” arrived.  The cylinders are roughly three feet in diameter and six feet high.  By Saturday crews from RAD and Carlin Aquarium Systems will need to put them in place, attach them to the plumbing/filtration in Center’s basement, fill them with water and then jellyfish.  In the middle of the two jelly tanks, the seahorses are now swimming among the live rock.

Ben Carlin
A wider shot shows the size of the turtle aquarium decoration.

The crew is doing this as 4-5 workers polish the floor with heavy, loud machines and soapy water.  Working around them are the guys tasked with making the exhibit both appealing to the eye and educational in the form of iPads and lighting.  I should mention there are at least half a dozen other random electricians and plumbers working on independent project, not to mention a guy loading the software onto the new ATM machine. Not ideal conditions.

Logperch Aquarium
The Center in the Square Roanoke Logperch aquarium. Just needs water — and fish.

Under the stairs the Roanoke Logperch aquarium is now decorated and mostly plumbed, as is the associated turtle tank.  Yesterday, Ben Carlin took a chainsaw to the massive, but beautiful piece of river wood that occupies the full five foot length of the turtle tank.  It then took six men to lift and carefully guild the wood into place.  It’s safe to say it’s never coming back out.  We hope the turtles and the public appreciate it.

Turtle Tank
A huge piece of driftwood occupies the Turtle Tank.

The good news is that everything is doable.  A few more gorgonians (corals) will be added to the reef tank, but it is essentially complete, and I must say, beautiful beyond my expectations.