Oregon Zoo to open new Veterinary Medical Center Jan. 19

January 13, 2012 - 8:00am

Zoo visitors can take behind-the-scenes tours of vet center Jan. 20–22

The Oregon Zoo’s new Veterinary Medical Center has been designed to meet the needs of the zoo’s diverse residents, whether they be tiny turtles, long-limbed orangutans or prickly porcupines. After 16 months of careful construction and equipment installation, the facility will open its doors to these unique patients on Thursday, Jan. 19. The public can peek inside Jan. 20-22, when the zoo will offer behind-the-scenes tours.

“While the Veterinary Medical Center will not be a public building, we want our community to be involved in its grand opening,” said Kim Smith, zoo director. “Public support made this incredible facility possible, so we encourage visitors to take a tour and see what they’ve helped us achieve.”

The medical center is the first major new facility to be completed with funding from the community-supported Oregon Zoo bond. Finished on schedule and under budget, the facility is designed to keep zoo animals and the environment healthy. Patients will benefit from specialized features like a climate-controlled intensive care unit – reptiles, birds and mammals need different temperature and humidity levels to be comfortable – and the building meets LEED gold certification standards for sustainability.

Visitors who tour the center should keep an eye out for the large surgery table strong enough to accommodate a zebra, rolling skylights that provide animals with fresh air and views of the sky, and powerful solar tubes that light the building naturally. Tours will depart regularly from in front of the medical center – between the Family Farm and wolf exhibit – and are free with zoo admission.

“We are very excited to show off our new hospital,” said zoo veterinary technician Margot Monti. “The tours are a great opportunity for us to show the public how their support is helping zoo animals, and to get visitors excited about the other great changes that will happen at the zoo as we work on projects like the new elephant habitat.”

Monti and other zoo veterinary staff worked with Peck Smiley Ettlin Architects and contractors Skanska USA at every stage of design and construction to develop the 15,000-square-foot Veterinary Medical Center. The facility includes spacious treatment and surgery rooms as well as holding areas that will make animals of all types feel comfortable, whether they fly, swim, prowl or swing from branch to branch. Aquatic animals will have access to temperature-controlled pools; primate areas include climbing structures and fold-down sleeping platforms.

Sustainable elements are woven throughout the medical center, but its most noticeable “green” feature is located outside: A 20-foot-tall, 27,000-gallon cistern sits on the building’s west side and captures rainwater from the roof, which can then be used for irrigation, washing down animal areas and flushing toilets. Other environment-friendly features include a water-efficient landscape of native plants, solar-heated tap water, and an energy-saving electrical system.

As with all public works construction in Oregon, 1 percent of the medical center’s construction budget went toward art. Two sets of tiles by Seattle artist Steven Gardener adorn the entryway: The outside walls feature terra cotta tiles patterned like snake scales, leopard fur and other animal markings; inside, glass tiles depicting cell structures and microscopic organisms have been incorporated into a bank of windows. Portland artist Margaret Kuhn has contributed colorful glass mosaics for the lobby floor, which show both external and X-ray views of zoo animals.

“The overall theme of the artwork is how we look at animals – both as humans in general and as veterinary professionals,” said Mitch Finnegan, lead veterinarian. “In the tiles and mosaics, we see both the surfaces of animals as well as X-ray and microscopic views.”

Several of the microscopic images on the tiles were taken from Oregon Zoo cases, and one of the floor mosaics depicts Charlie, the well-loved Oregon Zoo chimpanzee who passed away in 2009.