The Oregon Zoo is set to open the doors March 2 to the Education Center, with conservation and sustainability as the main themes.
Displays will offer ample opportunities for visitors to learn about exploring nature in the greater Portland metro region and taking action in their daily lives to promote conservation. Visitors will have the opportunity to learn about native plants and animals through the wildlife garden and insect zoo. New classrooms will provide space for children participating in field trips and camps to learn more. A 150-person event space will host conferences and can also be leased for private events.
“Zoo visitors, as well as the community at large, will benefit the most from this addition,” said Grant Spickelmier, Oregon Zoo education curator. “I really see this center as a hub for conservation education in the community.”
Visitors will have a myriad of features to enjoy both inside and outside the center. Outside, close to the wildlife garden, visitors will have the chance to take a break and enjoy a snack in the new café.
The education center will hopefully serve as a gateway to parks and natural areas in the region that people might not know about or have explored, said Heather Nelson Kent, community investments and nature education manager for Metro Parks and Nature.
“They’re probably people who have voted to support the things we’re doing, but they might not actually be doing things with us,” Nelson Kent said. “I think it’s a great bridge opportunity to that audience.”
As part of those efforts, the education center will feature a 55-inch interactive map to showcase 34 parks and natural areas throughout greater Portland. Visitors will be able to choose from 24 different activities, such as wildlife viewing and picnicking. From there, people can view parks that offer their favorite activities.
“We wanted to make sure that people from all walks of life – different ethnicities and backgrounds – are comfortable going out,” said Metro parks and nature senior public affairs specialist George Winborn, who worked on the map. “We definitely wanted to create awareness of our park system.”
Officials hope the building itself will achieve net-zero energy operations, meaning the amount of energy used by the building is equal to the amount generated by the building itself. A total of 760 solar panels line the roof. Rainwater will be collected and stored in a 10,000-gallon underground storage tank and then used to flush toilets.
Outside, the nature play area and landscape gates use salvaged wood from the previous elephant building.
“We’re really striving to be a model of the sustainability that we’re asking other people to do,” Spickelmier said.
Spickelmier encourages community partners to take advantage of the classroom space the center offers.
“We’re working hard to invite and engage different community partners around this opening and getting them access to the zoo,” Spickelmier said. “We’re hoping that the general zoo visitor, as well as our partners, will get something out of this.”
In 2008, voters approved Metro’s $125 million Oregon Zoo bond measure dedicated to zoo improvements with a focus on animal health and safety. The education center cost around $17 million, with an additional $1.7 million in private donations for enhancements and conservation efforts.
The education center is working to promote the idea that one person – with a single action – certainly has an impact on the environment, said Kate Giraud, an assistant project manager for the bond program. She hopes that children and adults alike will walk away with information that inspires them to think about conservation.
“Most zoos are moving away from that entertainment aspect and more into education and conservation. They’re answering the question ‘Why do we have animals in zoos?’” Giraud said. “The answer is so we can teach people why it’s important to conserve, because if we don’t, we’re going to lose these animals.”