Metro Council approves plan for implementing Oregon Zoo bond projects

September 22, 2011 - 8:00am

Bond-funded projects will comprise first phase of zoo’s 20-year master plan

In a decision hailed as great news for Oregon Zoo animals and visitors alike, the Metro Council today voted unanimously to approve early phase designs for new animal exhibits, educational facilities and sustainability measures funded by the $125 million bond measure passed by local voters in 2008.

The resolution, introduced by Dan Cooper, Metro's acting chief operating officer, with the concurrence of Council President Tom Hughes, also authorized the zoo to proceed in securing land-use and development permits and approvals, procuring detailed design and construction services, and following through on its designs for the remainder of its bond-funded projects.

"We are extremely gratified that the Metro Council has approved this plan," said Kim Smith, Oregon Zoo director. "Our staff has spent months working with international experts in zoo design and sustainability to plan the best habitats for our animals and the best experiences for our visitors. We can't wait to get started on these projects."

In the not-too-distant future, Oregon Zoo elephants will roam through a greatly expanded habitat of meadows, forest and pools. Polar bears will patrol a much larger territory, taking in views of the zoo and exploring a varied shoreline of pools and beaches. Chimpanzees and mandrills will swing above visitor pathways along overhead "treeways."

New habitats are designed to provide animals with more choices over where and how they spend their day. They will live in more natural family groups and have greater access to the outdoors. Each habitat will be larger, made from natural materials and open to the air and sky, with sheltered areas for colder seasons. Flooring will be natural soil, grass or other well-drained, porous material. Animals will be able to see outside of their habitats to adjacent exhibits, visitors and other parts of the zoo. Additionally each exhibit will be a stimulating, intriguing environment, providing animals with daily opportunities for discovery, play and problem solving.

With the goal of becoming the greenest zoo in the country, the Oregon Zoo is striving for LEED silver certification or better from the U.S. Green Building Council on each new facility. Across the zoo, visitors will see water- and energy-saving measures, including green roofs, rain-harvesting systems and a geothermal loop heat-exchange system. This campus-wide innovation will draw heat from areas that require cooler temperatures, such as the polar bear habitat, and reuse it to warm temperate or tropical habitats like Forest Hall, a multistory elephant-viewing shelter.

Since last October, a team of designers and sustainability experts has worked with zoo staff on a 20-year master plan and exhibit designs, as well as identifying ways to save water and energy, reduce waste and improve sustainability across all zoo activities and departments. Bond-funded projects comprise the first phase of this master plan. Additional master-plan projects not funded by the bond will be presented to the Metro Council for approval in November.

The zoo hopes to begin construction on a perimeter road and new zoo train route in spring of 2013 in preparation for construction of the new elephant habitat, beginning in autumn 2013. Metro issued its request for proposals for design consultants for this project on Sept. 20 and anticipates completing the design and development phase by spring 2012.

Previously, the council had authorized two zoo bond projects to proceed prior to completion of the zoo's master plan: construction of a new veterinary medical center and improvements to the water-filtration system at the penguin exhibit. Both of these projects are now nearing completion.

Construction on a modern veterinary center, the zoo's highest-priority bond project, began last November, and the center is expected to open in January. A new water-filtration and treatment system at the zoo's Humboldt penguin exhibit is also nearly complete; the penguins, which have been living in one half of the polar bear exhibit during construction, will return to their own habitat this fall. The new system will recirculate and clean water in the penguin pool, saving millions of gallons of water each year.

"The master-planning process has been absolutely essential in helping us determine the right location and proper timing for each bond-funded project," Smith said. "Thinking about the zoo's future needs has kept us mindful of our resources and the need to be efficient in organizing and phasing construction. It also has produced some dazzling designs."