“Animal care is one of the top cornerstones of what we do with our animals,” said Zoo Executive Director Gregg Dancho, who noted the new addition includes a large picture window. “Guests can come by and actually see the diets being prepared.”
The 1,200-square-foot facility, which will cost about $500,000, was approved during the Bill Finch administration, but Mayor Joe Ganim said he fully supports the renovations.
“It’s more than an attraction,” Ganim said of the zoo. “It’s really something special in the city.”
The new facility will be an addition to what is now the New World Tropics building at the center of the zoo. Built in the 1950s, the former “Monkey House” was considered so state of the art it made the cover of Look magazine.
But times have changed and the building has undergone several renovations in past years, Dancho said.
What has never gotten a makeover is the humble kitchen to the south side of the building. Staffers have to haul meat and produce from basement coolers up to the site to prepare meals for the tigers, bears, prairie dogs and other animals many times a day.
The new facility, designed by Drombroski Architects, will include updated appliances and computers. Staffers will work to prepare specialized diets prescribed by the zoo veterinarian, who Dancho hopes will be joined by a zoo nutritionist in the future.
The building will also house more zoo volunteers and help launch an animal care educational program.
Dancho hopes to hold a grand opening within three or four months.
Standing between zoo staffers holding a baby alligator and a boa constrictor at the groundbreaking, Ganim tried to keep an eye on both of his new reptilian friends.
“It’s really making me comfortable being a politician squeezed between these two,” he joked.
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