Zoo launches design of new education center

August 1, 2014 - 1:56pm

Green building to feature new conservation lab, auditorium and insect zoo

The Oregon Zoo has started designing its next major campus improvement, a new conservation education center slated to open in spring 2017. The center is intended to help the community make meaningful connections with the natural world and inspire conservation action.

"Across the zoo, visitors learn about animals, their habitats and the conservation challenges they face," said Grant Spickelmier, the zoo's education curator. "We want this center to help children and families appreciate that small things matter, both in the everyday actions they take and by connecting them with critically important animals like bees, butterflies and turtles."

"Our visitors want to know what they can do to help animals and the environment as a whole. The education center is here to facilitate that."

—Grant Spickelmier, education curator

Highlights of the space include a reimagined insect zoo and an interactive conservation-care lab. Visitors will learn how zoo scientists care for endangered animals and view the zoo's species-recovery lab, where rare western pond turtles are raised for release into the wild. Kids will get to practice some of the same animal-care activities as the zoo scientists in interactive play areas nearby.

Plans also call for an outdoor plaza with a learning garden, food and beverages and play areas for children. A flexible auditorium space will accommodate up to 150 people for lectures, documentary screenings and other conservation-focused community events.

"This will be a space for the community to share their nature exploration experiences and ideas for reducing their environmental impacts," Spickelmier said. "We want to encourage people to go out and help each other connect with natural world."

Located in the area opposite the zoo's Amur tiger habitat and adjacent to the train station, the center will provide a welcoming entry and staging area for the 200,000 children who participate in zoo camps and classes each year. While increasing and improving space for these popular programs, the new center is also intended to expand the capacity of conservation education across the Portland metro region, serving as a resource for the zoo's partners in conservation education, including the Intertwine Alliance and the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service.

The project design team for the new center is led by Opsis Architecture of Portland and Jones and Jones Architects of Seattle, with interpretive components by IQ Magic of Santa Monica, Calif. The construction contractor for the project is Portland-based Fortis Construction.

"Zoo animals are ambassadors for their species," Spickelmier said. "We help tell their stories. And what we have found is that our visitors want to know what they can do to help animals and the environment as a whole. The education center is here to facilitate that."

Early design concepts for the center — which will be the fifth of eight major projects funded by the community-supported 2008 zoo bond measure — will be on display at the zoo Aug. 12-16.