BATH — Most people in the Midcoast know of Bath Iron Works, but there’s plenty of people in the area and around Maine and the U.S. who don’t know a lot about what the company does.

A new exhibit opening Saturday at Maine Maritime Museum hopes to educate the public on what happens behind the security gates at one of the state’s largest employers.

“People are just interested in what’s going on down there because it’s rather classified,” said Chris Timm, the museum’s curator of exhibits. “To our average visitor, we have to explain to them what BIW is.”

The museum is opening its new “BIW: Building America’s Navy” exhibit, during the museum’s annual Community Day celebration.

“I think people will really love it, and it’ll be nice to see their reactions,” Timm said.

The 1,000-square-foot exhibit — produced in collaboration with Bath Iron Works — was imagined, designed and constructed since December on an accelerated timeline unlike any other project at the museum.

The exhibit will provide an immersive, behind-the-scenes look at the people, processes and ships of BIW, one of only two shipyards in the U.S. specializing in the design and building of complex surface combatants for the Navy.

Katie Spiridakis, the museum’s marketing and communications manager, said the exhibit was able to be completed so quickly largely because the infrastructure was already in place.

The new exhibit is being housed in the former Education Building and will provide visitors with an exclusive look at the shipyard’s innovative approaches to design through a number of interactive elements including a touch-sensitive wall illustrating ship design.

Guests will enter the exhibit through a hallway made to look like the inside of one of the ships built at BIW. There is a display that highlights the materials used to build the large Navy vessels and where the materials come from, and there is an area with shipbuilding tools like a welding torch and pneumatic tools that people can touch.

One of the walls will feature a time-lapse video showing a ship moving from its dry dock to the water, a process that has changed a lot since the early days of shipbuilding. The interactive touch-sensitive wall, Timm said, is sure to be a hit among visitors to the museum.

“We’ll talk about the different ship classes and the design process, concept art and how things are imagined and turned into reality,” he said.

Timm said so many people come through the museum and ask docents about BIW. He said this exhibit and tours, which will be led by BIW retirees, will answer a lot of questions.

Jim DeMartini, a former communications manager at BIW and museum volunteer, said the exhibit is very important for the museum and the shipyard.

“The public needs to know that what Maine shipbuilders do every day is essential for all of us who live in Maine and the security of the nation,” DeMartini said.

In addition to the displays throughout the space, the museum is almost finished constructing a new theater space that will feature a BIW-produced video of the shipbuilding process to give visitors a glimpse of life inside the BIW gates.

“It’s not our most expensive project, but it’s definitely the most contemporary and high-tech,” Spiridakis said.
There is so much going on at BIW that it’s impossible for an exhibit of this size to cover everything, Timm said. But the museum is trying to get people excited about the engineering and concepts involved with these vessels.

The elephant in the room, so-to-speak, is that the vessels built at Bath Iron Works are used in combat around the world. Timm said that topic cannot be ignored, but the exhibit is going to focus on the construction of the ships and the processes involved, rather than their end uses.

“Of course, we’ll talk about how they’re used, but we want to focus on the shipbuilding,” he said. “We don’t want to emphasize the combat and the fighting.”

There is some BIW history on display in one of the exhibits in the main museum building, so Timm said people should have a little bit of background before coming to the new exhibit. The history of BIW is a big component of the museum’s maritime Maine exhibit, but there needed to be more about the history of the shipyard and how things were built.

Timm said the museum wouldn’t have been able to complete the exhibit without the partnership with Bath Iron Works. He said the museum had an exhibit like this in mind for some time, and the opportunity presented itself late last year.

“It’s always good to do something now rather than sit on it for a few years, and BIW had the time to sit down and talk to us about it, rather than wait for a long, drawn-out process,” Timm said.

As technology continues to change, so does the way BIW builds ships. Timm said the exhibit is being designed with the ability to grow and adapt to cover different angles the museum isn’t thinking about now.

“You just can’t cover every single thing about BIW,” he said.

The museum is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week. For more information, visit www.mainemaritimemuseum.org.