Importance of a master plan

The importance of a master plan

The zoo's 20-year plan lays out a bold new direction for animal care and visitor experiences.

The Oregon Zoo is in an amazing position. Once in a generation, a zoo is entrusted with the confidence of its community, the funds to carry out significant improvements and an exciting new vision and direction. Taking full advantage of this opportunity, the zoo is making changes that will not only improve the welfare of the animals in its charge but influence how zoo animals are managed around the world. At a moment and opportunity like this, it makes sense to create a great plan.

What is a master plan?

A master plan is a vision of the future zoo that guides its development and evolution over time. It starts with a complete understanding of its site and surroundings. Then it conveys the future in photographs, drawings and maps.

A master plan also narrates the story of the zoo's plans for the future. It describes the zoo's vision and goals, the purpose and intent for each facility, and includes a budget, sequence and timeline of construction projects that will bring the future vision to reality. This representation of the zoo's future is an essential tool to coordinate the development of the zoo's separate facilities into a coherent, effective and unique institution with a clear and recognizable theme and mission.

The Oregon Zoo's animal keepers, conservation educators, event organizers and zoo directors developed the master plan working with an experienced team of architects, engineers, exhibit designers, interpreters and project managers led by SRG Partnership, Inc. of Portland and CLR Design of Philidelphia. The team provided professional guidance, broad experience and deep understanding of the latest trends in zoo design as well as knowledge of the newest water and energy conservation tools and technologies.

The master plan was completed over summer 2011 and approved by the Metro Council Nov. 3.

What's in the master plan?

Imagine the main street of a small town. That's where you shop, dine, meet friends and relax. The zoo has a Main Street. Fifty years ago, when it was called the Washington Park Zoo, the entire zoo consisted of this relatively level area between Tiger Plaza and the former Elephant Museum, now Elephant Lands. Today, this same area forms the central core of the Oregon Zoo. Over time as exhibits have been added and changed, the zoo has expanded up the hill to Cascade Crest and down the hill to Predators of the Serengeti.

Despite changes over time, Zoo Main Street remains the center of the zoo and is being emphasized and featured so that visitors can more easily find their way to surrounding habitats. Because bond funds are covering replacement or renovation of the zoo's oldest exhibits located along Main Street – elephants, primates and polar bears – the zoo has taken advantage of the opportunity to redesign and enhance Main Street.

Each of these habitats will remain in its current location but with an expanded footprint. Nearly completed Elephant Lands now encircles the entire eastern edge of the zoo, occupying four times the space of the former exhibit while providing the elephants with much more stimulating activities, challenging terrain, sand substrate and a variety of water features. These habitat improvements are already changing the animals' behavior and improving their health. Learn more about the new elephant habitat.

Polar bears will remain in the same general location. Already the train has been relocated so that it no longer runs over the top of their home. Their habitat will double in size and include hills, beaches and grand views of the zoo. The polar bear habitat will be completed in 2019. Learn more about the polar bear habitat.

Zoo staff can't wait to expand and improve habitat for apes and monkeys. In the master plan, chimps and mandrills will roam much larger habitats oriented to the south, tying these two African species to the other Africa exhibits. Some of these improvements are funded by the current bond. Some will require a future funding source to complete. The zoo hopes to breed chimps, gradually increasing their numbers to build an expanding family colony. Orangutans, gibbons and other Asian primates will be thematically linked with elephants and other Asian species. Learn more about the new primate habitat.

Hippos will find a new home in another zoo and the rhino habitat will expand to include the hippo's current space, with a planned completion date of 2020. Eventually, when additional funding is secured, they will share an expanded Africa savanna habitat with several other species. Learn more about the new rhino habitat.

The condor habitat is the only brand new exhibit to be constructed with the current bond funds. They now reside in the Family Farm area in a sunny spot where they regularly display their 10-foot wingspans. Learn more about the new condor habitat.

The conservation education center is now under construction. Located at the former zoo entrance across from Amur tigers, it will provide easy street access for parents and school buses dropping off excited campers and for adults attending evening activities and lectures. The new center will include classrooms, workshop and office space for zoo teen programs and a large adaptable meeting space. It will welcome zoo visitors to a Nature Exploration Station, backyard habitat garden, woodland play area, restrooms and café. Learn about the new conservation education center.

What is being conserved?

The master plan determined the location and footprint of each habitat and facility and helped zoo staff determine feasibility of rainwater capture, heat exchanges and solar collection. Specifics of each of these new systems are each defined in greater detail in designs and construction drawings developed for each facility. Every exhibit and building is making the most efficient use and reuse of water, energy and waste products. Learn more about the zoo's sustainability improvements.