An eight-pound, three-banded armadillo named Pepe and 4-year-old boy named Daniel Dreier dug in the sand of the Santa Barbara Zoo’s former capybara exhibit on Thursday morning to break ground for “Discovery Pavilion,” a new facility for the zoo’s education programs.
They were later joined by community supporters swinging golden sledge hammers beginning demolition for the $7.5 million project.
Construction will begin after Labor Day and last about 14 months, coinciding with the zoo’s 50th anniversary year in 2013. Supporters have raised $6.4 million so far, leaving just 15 percent more to raise.
Thirty years after it was first proposed, the Discovery Pavilion will provide indoor space for zoo education programs and community needs. Two classrooms can be combined into space for 122, five times the zoo’s current capacity. A gallery will feature educational exhibits, and a media library will offer resource materials for teachers.
The zoo’s Animal Kitchen will move here, on view to the public; there will offices for adult and teen volunteers, and for conservation, education and keeper staff. It will be accessible and ADA compliant.
“Bringing all these features together in the new Discovery Pavilion directly aligns with the zoo’s core mission of connecting people with animals in meaningful and impactful ways,” said zoo Director Nancy McToldridge, who recently celebrated her 30th year with the zoo. “While the Discovery Pavilion will have a big impact on the zoo conservation education programs, the actual footprint of the new Discovery Pavilion and construction area is fairly small, and the majority of zoo exhibits are open and unaffected.”
The construction project is about 9,500 square feet, but the creation of accessible pathways and the associated gardens adds more area. Pathways in that area will be temporarily closed, but detours will be clearly marked and “add some fun,” says McToldridge. “Don’t be fooled by the construction, your favorite zoo experiences await beyond the temporary fences.”
Zoo education programs reach more than 40,000 students each year, including 4,000 Title 1 schools — more than any other single institution in Santa Barbara. More than 250,000 children, teens and adults participate in formal and informal zoo education offerings.
— Julia McHugh is the director of public relations for the Santa Barbara Zoo.