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Zoo projects will give Packy room to roam

Planners putting finishing touches on 2008 bond work to expand exhibits
by: Courtesy of the Oregon Zoo The Oregon Zoo’s elephants, from left, Chendra, Rose-Tu, Shine and Pet, will have more room to meander once their enclosure is expanded to six acres as part of the work funded by the 2008 $125 million bond.

Sometime next year, Packy's house at the Oregon Zoo is going to be remodeled and expanded.

The zoo's 49-year-old patriarch Asian elephant is going to get a lot more room to roam, and a bigger indoor area to spend his time. Packy's a big guy - 10-foot-6, weighing about 13,000 pounds - so he needs his space.

It's all part of the Oregon Zoo's projects that were included in a $125 million bond approved by voters in 2008.

The cramped elephant exhibit - right now only 1.5 acres - will be expanded four times its size to six acres and spread out to give Packy and the other elephants plenty of places to meander.

ZOO MASTER PLAN OPEN HOUSES

The zoo is hosting a second open house Monday to give the public a look at the master plan projects. The open house includes animal keepers, planners and staff who will talk about designs for the new elephant, polar bear, primate and condor exhibits. The open house is:

• Monday, Aug. 8

5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Oregon Zoo's Skyline Room

The exhibit will be extended around the eastern edge of the zoo property, from south of the current elephant barn and north into the former Elk Meadow. That will give the elephants access to a variety of habitats and terrain, from a meadow to a hilly forest.

The primary project

It's the first major exhibit project the zoo will construct early next year with the bond money, says Kim Smith, the zoo's director.

'The elephant exhibit work is going to be primary,' Smith says. 'We have a small site there for them and we need six acres for the new exhibit.'

The first steps toward expansion and remodeling for the zoo's exhibits began in late June, when Metro officials met with Portland city planners to establish a new 20-year master plan for the 64-acre zoo site. The zoo's current master plan expires in February 2013 and the new plan is needed for the bond projects, Smith says.

The 20-year plan would go through the city's condition-use process and requires, among other things, an environmental review. Smith says Metro planners are completing schematic designs for most of the bond projects. Metro Council approval of the work will be sought in September, she says, and project designs should be ready for bid by the fall.

'It's going to happen pretty fast,' Smith says.

Some projects funded by the bond - including a new 15,000-square-foot veterinary medical center and a water filtration system for the penguins - are already being built. The new veterinary medical center will be completed in December, replacing an older center with a modern facility that has plenty of room to handle most procedures.

Geothermal concert lawn

First up for the exhibits will be the elephant area expansion. That's going to require rerouting the zoo's popular train that now travels on a four-mile, 35-minute round trip through Washington Park, with a spin around the elephant enclosure. Once work on the new elephant exhibit begins, the train will be rerouted away from the elephants.

'We're going to keep the wonderful Washington Park route, but now visitors will have a view of the new polar bear exhibit,' Smith says.

The bond also will finance acquisition of a new off-site elephant enclosure where the zoo's pachyderms can go to roam and congregate in herds, much like they would in the wild. Metro is still considering a couple of sites, including a spot near Roslyn Lake in Clackamas County, southeast of Gresham.

Other projects will expand and renovate exhibits for polar bears, primates and hippos. A new California condor exhibit will be constructed with the bond funds.

One project not funded by the bond that the zoo hopes to complete in the next few years is installation of a new geothermal energy system in its concert lawn near the elephant enclosure. Smith says the project would place pipes under the open lawn's surface to collect heat for the elephant building and possibly colder air to cool the polar bear exhibit.

The zoo also plans to rebuild the concert stage, which Smith says is showing its age. The stage will be reconstructed and realigned for the lawn, she says.

The zoo has hosted a summer concert series for more than 20 years, which shouldn't change even with the geothermal work, Smith says.

'We're very committed to our concert lawn,' she says. 'The geothermal project wouldn't substantially change the lawn. People sitting on the lawn will have no idea they're sitting on a sustainable energy system.'

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