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Zoo begins work on new education center

COURTESY OF KATHY STREET/OREGON ZOO - Schoolchildren help officials break ground Tuesday morning on a new conservation education center at the Oregon Zoo.The Oregon Zoo broke ground Tuesday on its fifth major construction project in the past six years, this time for a new conservation education center slated to open in spring 2017.

Tuesday morning, Sept. 1, a crowd of shovel-wielding schoolchildren joined forces with a 30-ton excavator as the zoo started work on the center in the area opposite the zoo’s Amur tiger habitat and adjacent to the train station.

It is the fifth of eight major projects funded by the 2008 zoo bond measure. It will provide an entry and staging area for thousands of children who participate in zoo camps and classes each year, and serve as a regional hub, expanding the zoo’s conservation education programs through partnerships with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Intertwine Alliance and others.

“Across the zoo, visitors learn about animals, their habitats and the conservation challenges they face,” said Grant Spickelmier, the zoo’s education curator. “We want this center to help children and families appreciate that small things matter, both in the everyday actions they take and by connecting them with critically important small animals like bees, butterflies and turtles.”

COURTESY OF THE OREGON ZOO - An exterior rendering shows the new NESt center at the Oregon Zoo.The center’s Nature Exploration Station — or NESt — will be a catalyst for awareness and action, starting with the small things. From insects to plants, the environment at the NESt is designed to help visitors understand how humans and nature depend on each other. A backyard habitat garden will illustrate the importance of native plants for local wildlife habitat and remind us that, ultimately, we are all connected.

COURTESY OF LEAH NASH/OREGON ZOO - The Oregon Zoo's new education center will be home to classes and programs for thousands of children who take part in zoo educational programs each year.“This will be a space for the community to share nature exploration experiences and ideas for making a positive impact on the environment,” Spickelmier said. “We want to encourage people to go out and help each other connect with natural world.”

During the ceremony, the Oregon Zoo Foundation announced the public launch of its $1.5 million education campaign, which will support features like technology in the classrooms, an expanded space for teen volunteers and interns, and interactive displays in the NESt.

The project was designed by Opsis Architecture of Portland and Jones & Jones Architects of Seattle, with interpretive components by IQ Magic of Santa Monica, Calif. Portland’s Fortis Construction is building the center.

To learn more, visit wwworegonzoo.org/discover/new-zoo/zoo-education-center.