When Oklahoma City Zoo veterinarian Jennifer D’Agostino surveys the construction of the new Joan Kirkpatrick Animal Hospital, her excitement for the project barely can be contained.
For one, the new 20,000-square-foot hospital will alleviate space issues at the current facility, which opened more than 30 years ago. But also, it will give D’Agostino and her staff a chance to show the public what they do.
The new animal hospital will include several viewing windows allowing zoo visitors to view some procedures ranging from lab work to surgeries.
Visitors will be able to watch as meals are prepared, and there will be monitors in the viewing area that will provide information about medical procedures being performed.
“This will be a great opportunity for the general public to learn what it takes to care for a collection this size,” D’Agostino said. “We can incorporate our conservation messages in with it, as well.”
She said that even though what the zoo does “isn’t direct conservation in the wild, we’re taking care of these animals so they are healthy, and they can share their stories with the public so they can care about these animals and their wild places and preserving those globally.”
Deputy Director Alan Varsik said some zoos have facilities the public can access, but it is far from the norm.
“That’s really the most exciting part of the project,” he said. “We can show the ways we care for our animals to our guests. They will get to see firsthand how we do that through treatment, or surgery or from a lab perspective. Even how we prepare diets. One of the fun parts of what we do is sharing what we do.”
The hospital also will include offices for staff, a larger, more expanded records room and pharmacy, along with radiology. There also will be a small apartment in the building for vets to use during times when an animal needs around-the-clock care.
“We will have stalls in our hospitalized animal quarters with pools in them,” D’Agostino said. “Right now we don’t have that, and it’s difficult to hospitalize ducks or swans, for example. Now we can do that with no problem. Our surgery facility and X-ray room are about twice the size of what we have now. That will be very helpful to us.”
Funding for the hospital included $4.5 million from sales tax revenue and another $4.5 million was raised in a capital campaign led by ZooFriends. The money was raised in about 18 months from more than 620 donors.
“The interest level exceeded what we expected,” ZooFriends Executive Director Dana McCrory said. “We get calls every week from people asking how it is coming along. It’s really amazing to see what the public-private partnership has produced, and I think when the doors open that will be the ultimate thank you. We will be able to show people the impact of their dollars.”
Ground was broken in March 2013. Varsik said the hospital is expected to open in the fall and be open to the public by winter.