Construction of the new Children’s Zoo at the Oklahoma City Zoo is halfway done, and despite a few setbacks, the exhibit should open next spring, the zoo’s executive director said. The project will take about $1 million more and six months longer than expected. But the result will be a better, more complete exhibit, Executive Director Dwight Scott said. "The focus of our exhibit design is what is in the best interest of the animals and what will be the best use of taxpayer dollars,” Scott said. "Those factors really drive the process.” Zoo officials originally estimated the exhibit would cost $7 million. But when all the bids for the project came in at $8 million or more, the project cost was revised, Scott said. The timeline also was modified to allow more time for construction. The last large exhibit at the zoo, Oklahoma Trails, opened two years behind schedule and nearly $4 million over budget. Scott said zoo officials are working to keep that from happening again on other projects. The zoo will hire employees from the Oklahoma City Public Works Department to help keep the Children’s Zoo and other big projects on track. "We’re animal experts,” Scott said. "They’re construction experts.” Like the Oklahoma Trails exhibit, the land used for the Children’s Zoo is challenging for designers and builders, said Tommy Bryant, the zoo buildings and grounds director. The exhibit covers a steep slope, Bryant said. Workers also are avoiding old-growth trees on the land. Backhoes and pickups drive around trees that are roped off and covered with dust. The Children’s Zoo is near the center of the zoo grounds, so it’s been home to many different types of animals since the zoo was founded more than 100 years ago. Construction workers have unearthed many surprises, such as foundations built several feet above other foundations, Bryant said. One oddity was a concrete pool 20 feet underground. The Children’s Zoo is designed to allow children to explore, Assistant Zoo Director Brian Aucone said. The nine areas of the Children’s Zoo will branch off from a center point. "It doesn’t have a definite way that you have to do this or that,” Aucone said. "It’s not directed. We’re not telling you where to go.” While the exhibits will be interesting to adults, designers have included lots of kid-friendly features, Aucone said. For example, some of the viewing windows have small ledges for children to stand on to get a better look. To get inside the underground exhibit, children can take the paths, the stairs or a slide. "Why do we have to stick with the conventional,” he said, "when we can make it more fun and interesting?”
AT A GLANCEZoo’s 9 parts Entry: A child-sized and an adult-sized entryway lead into an exhibit of macaws. The entrance is designed to be bright, colorful and noisy, Assistant Zoo Director Brian Aucone said. Contact Barn: The petting zoo features unique species of barnyard animals, such as tunis sheep. Waterway: The splash area for children leads to a koi pond and flamingo habitat. Secret Forest: Play area with areas for children to explore. Underground Zone: Spiders and insects show children what life is like below the leaves. The centerpiece is a trio of cement trees; the tallest is 25 feet. Explorikeet Adventure: Visitors can feed the lorikeets in the enclosed exhibit. Unlike the old lorikeet exhibit, the new one features a holding barn visitors can look into when the 300 birds have to stay inside because of weather. Primates: A playground for children matches the habitat for spider and squirrel monkeys. Heated vines will allow the monkeys to play even during cold weather. Grandma’s Porch: Shady spot. Gathering Meadow: Picnic area.