By Alexa McCarthy
Ingham County Chronicle
Architects from Design Level Architecture revealed the phase one design plan for a new animal health-care and teaching facility to the Potter Park Zoo Board On Wednesday, Oct. 9.
Plans for a new health-care facility are part of the zoo’s master plan conceived in 2010. According to the zoo’s website the plan’s goal is “to improve not just our exhibits and our grounds, but our education and conservation missions, our visitor experience, and our sustainability.”
Zoo Director Sheri Graham said that the original plan was to work on the new Great Lakes collection first, but since that developed in 2012 the zoo decided to move the health-care facility higher on the to-do list. While the zoo currently has a center to treat sick animals, it’s no bigger than a classroom and contains X-ray, treatment and surgery all in one room. “We’ve had as many as 30 people in there working on a tiger!” said Graham. “And it gets crowded.”
The updated plan designs a whole new building that will be located on a hill, west of the zoo entrance. “We wanted to make sure the hospital is on the perimeter of the zoo campus and has significant space, so that we can take an infectious animal to MSU without dragging it through the whole zoo.”
While the board may want to keep sick animals a safe distance from the rest of the zoo, the design does not hide the facility. The building will also be used as teaching. he new design emphasizes visitor engagement, with windows to treatment and surgery rooms that create a controlled viewing environment.
Tracy Kameoka of Design Level Architecture presents the new design for the health care facility. She said working with the coexisting site was one of the important elements of creating the design.
“The main reason this team was chosen was for their experience and expertise in animal care facilities,” said Graham. Design level has worked on 11 zoo projects including projects in Cleveland, Milwaukee and Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida.
“Animal hospitals have to be safe for humans and animals,” said Douglas Barga, an architect on the project. “And those two things often challenge each other.” Compared to the zoo’s current one-room facility the new design has multiple rooms for surgery, X-ray, quarantine and animal holding rooms. The design is similar to a human hospital in the sense that it creates “straight-forward circulation” that emphasises efficiency and safety.
Something that zoo visitors may not know is that before a new animal can be released and live with other animals in an exhibit, it must be quarantined for 30 days to ensure it is virus-free. Design Level wanted to accommodate the zoo’s need for special quarantine rooms.
Another thing the firm focused on was the existing site and the natural beauty within the park. “This zoo is unique because it is in a park, with a view and we had opportunity to take advantage of that,” said Kameoka. “It is unlike other zoos that are contained within a city.”
The building design is meant to co-exist with the natural surroundings and the firm wanted to create a continuation between the outside and inside elements as a way to invite visitors in. The firm emphasized that visitor engagement with treatment rooms was extremely important to the design and a way to encourage education.
While the back of the building will be used as a loading dock and animal entranceway, the front outdoor patio will be used as a space to rent out for parties and receptions.
Kameoka said, “Every zoo project we work on is more innovative than the last, and this will be one of the most functionally efficient plans out there.”
While the design mock-ups are not for public display yet, the zoo is anticipating moving forward with the design in spring 2015.