Setbacks to make Oklahoma City kids’ zoo better

CARRIE COPPERNOLL Published: June 22, 2009
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.



AT A GLANCE
Zoo’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.

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