A local engineering firm will take a hard look at the aircraft carrier Yorktown over the next eight months.

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Patriots Point Development Authority has awarded a $554,000 contract to Collins Engineers for a structural assessment of the World War II-era carrier.

The 888-foot-long ship is the main attraction at Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum, which is operated by a state-commissioned agency that receives no state funding. It's home to the national Congressional Medal of Honor Museum.

The metal vessel has been sitting in nearly 30 feet of salt-infused mud at the edge of Mount Pleasant since it arrived at the tourist attraction in 1975. The ship needs major repairs if it's going to remain a historic landmark in Charleston Harbor.

The structural assessment will help the state agency determine how much work the aging warship needs, which areas need to be repaired first, how long the restoration is going to take - and most importantly, what it's going to cost.

Previous estimates have ranged from $40 million to $100 million, which were "unsubstantiated numbers," said Mac Burdette, executive director of Patriots Point.

The board awarded the contract at its monthly meeting Friday.

Charleston-based Collins Engineers will begin assessing the ship's condition in the next three weeks, and it will take about eight months to complete, Burdette said. The half-million-dollar assessment will be funded in the state agency's general budgets over the next two years, he said.

This is the second measure Patriots Point has taken to plan the ship's restoration. Shaw Environmental Inc. conducted an environmental assessment of the Yorktown last year to determine what it would take to prime the warship for the massive restoration project.

The firm found that the ship would need about six months of cleaning before structural repairs could begin. The cleanup, which would involve removing 160,000 gallons of petroleum residue from the ship, among many other tasks, was estimated to cost about $4.4 million.

The development authority plans to present the structural and environmental reports to the Department of Defense to ask for financial assistance with the restoration project, Burdette said.

"We will be asking our congressional delegation to work with us in going to the U.S. Navy and trying to secure some measure of funding assistance to do this. We may or may not be successful, but without some empirical data, then they won't even let us in the door," he said.

Reach Abigail Darlington at 937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail