Submarine Museum Could Surface Here

By Cece Nunn, posted May 17, 2024
A museum in Wilmington dedicated to submarines with North Carolina names would educate people about the workforce necessary to keep them going, organizers say. (Rendering c/o the N.C. Submarine Museum Foundation)
Wilmington might land another maritime attraction.

This month, the Wilmington City Council supported the N.C. Submarine Museum Foundation’s idea to build the museum in the Port City.

In 2008, the Navy commissioned the USS North Carolina SSN 777 submarine in Wilmington, and Wilmington has many more things going for it as the foundation works to make the museum a reality. Those attributes include proximity to and understanding of the ocean and the city’s reputation for already holding one of the state’s most popular maritime attractions, the Battleship North Carolina.

The N.C. Submarine Museum Foundation was started for the families of the sailors deployed on the USS North Carolina SSN 777, the USS Charlotte SSN 766 and the USS Asheville SSN 758. The “SS” denotes a submarine, and the “N” stands for “nuclear-powered.”

“There are 1,500 family members across three submarines that we support,” said Christopher Perrien, executive director of the submarine museum foundation. “These boats go on patrol for seven months at a time underwater, and that puts a lot of strain on the average family.”

A museum would continue to support those military families and honor submarine veterans but also serve as a way to provide science and math education and inspire some to enter the field of submarine technology.

Navy officials predict a skilled labor shortage of 100,000 people over the next decade to build and repair the submarines that are already funded to be built and repaired, said Perrien, who is a U.S. Naval Academy graduate and IBM retiree living in Durham.

Perrien said the submarine museum could be a $35 million to $65 million above-the-surface facility rather than a decommissioned submarine. The museum would include a workforce development center and exhibits that answer questions like, “Why is a submarine shaped like a cigar?” and “How do you turn salt water into oxygen?”

The museum would have a virtual reality component that could translate to give the experience to young people nationwide.

Gaining local support was key for the foundation to be able to move forward in seeking state and federal funding for the museum, Perrien said. To that end, Perrien said he had help from state Sen. Michael Lee, R-New Hanover, and met with local elected officials.

Salette Andrews, the city councilwoman who introduced the resolution supporting Wilmington’s consideration as a museum site, is an Air Force veteran and is on board with the museum being located in the Port City.

“I think it’s a great idea, not just for tourism, but also for young people to learn about careers in STEM,” Andrews said.

The Wilmington City Council voted unanimously May 7 in favor of supporting the city’s consideration as a museum site. 

Perrien said he predicts the museum could be open for business by 2028.

He said foundation officials hope the museum will “excite people about what we think is the most sophisticated machine built in the world – the American nuclear-powered submarine.”
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