Zoo continues work on new center

Zoo continues work on new center

THE JACKSON Zoological Park continues to be a hopping place for animals and contractors working to make life more comfortable for the four-legged creatures and the two-legged folks who visit.

More than a year and a half after a groundbreaking for it, work is nearing completion on the Gertrude C. Ford Education Center, a $1.5 million facility that primarily will be used for hands-on exhibititons and education.

“Construction is completed and the staff has moved in,” said Zoo Director Beth Poff. “The building is now being used for meetings,” but it won’t be open for public use likely until early next year. “We still have to complete the interactive displays that will go in the front hallway.”

She said the zoo is expected to send out a request for proposals soon to construct the cabinets for the displays and another one for contractors to do the graphic work. She wouldn’t say how much the project would cost. “It’s not a lot, but it will be enough to be nice,” Poff noted.

While work continues on that project, construction is expected to begin in the near future on a new exhibit space for tigers. “We’re having a pre-construction meeting for our Asian tigers exhibit tomorrow,” Poff said in an interview last week. “This will be a nine-month build out project.”

Late last year, after its resident tiger passed away, the zoo acquired three new Sumatran tigers. The brothers, named Kipling, Emerson and Taymor, are now residing in an 800-square-foot exhibit holding area. And while it will still be several months before their new home will be completed, it will be worth the wait.

POFF SAID the new exhibit space will be an 8,000-square-foot outdoor space, with a small water pool for the big cats to play in, grassy areas, and rock ledges. It will be located in the Asian area, and will be near the leopard, gibbons, orangutans and tapers.

The exhibit space will also be a nice addition for humans visiting the zoo as well. It will include a pavilion and glass viewing areas for residents to get an up-close view of the animals. Poff said the tigers won’t be able to break the glass.

“No tigers will get out,” she said, adding that the exhibit area will be surrounded by a large fence to ensure that the tigers stay in and are protected. She said it will cost about a million dollars to build the facility. “We try to upgrade one area at a time, hoping to keep the zoo new and bring in visitors year after year.”

The education center, once it opens, promises to be a huge draw for local schools and families looking to learn a little more about their favorite animals. It’s also a welcome addition to the zoo’s two full-time educational employees and 20 volunteer docents.

The 3,500-square-foot, two story facility replaces the carts that volunteers used to work out of, giving them a much better working environment. It features two large classrooms upstairs and a large exhibit space downstairs. The building also has a stage, a permanent conservation exhibit and space for animals and a large working honeybee exhibit.

The nine displays “will all be set up to talk about conservation of the habitats and animals of our state,” Poff said. The building is paid for, in part, with a $950,000 federal economic incentive grant and a $500,000 grant from the Gertrude C. Ford Foundation. The rest of the funding comes from the Zoo Foundation.

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