Landscape changing at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium

The public got a chance to preview the designs for a project that will reshape Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium and change the way visitors traverse the zoo.

At an open house reception at Metropolitan Park District Headquarters yesterday, design schematics for the Pt. Defiance Zoo and Aquarium Wild Wonders Theater and Zoo Hub were revealed.

On hand were several zoo officials, Metropolitan Park District Commissioners and representatives of BCRA Tsang, the Tacoma-based project architect.

“It’s in the design stage right now,” Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium Operations Manger Stanley Chapin said, referring to the project’s current status.

Construction on the $4.2 million project is set to begin this fall and is scheduled to be completed by the summer of 2003.

“The bidding climate is good right now,” said John Houck, the zoo’s deputy director, referring to the drop in prices brought about by the recession. “We’re hoping that’s going to last.”

The Wild Wonders Theater and Zoo Hub is just one part of a major expansion and renovation of the zoo.

In January, ground was broken in preparation for the zoo’s new Animal Health Care Facility, the first of several construction projects made possible by the passage of a $35 million bond issue by Pierce County voters in 1999.

Other projects will include an Asia Forest Sanctuary exhibit featuring tigers, tapirs, gibbons and other Asian animals; a Kids Zone with play and activity areas, animal exhibit, seating and viewing area; and a new cafe.

All projects are expected to be completed by 2005.

Plans call for the Wild Wonders Theater to provide covered seating for 350, with extra seating on grass for up to 850 more people.

The slope of theater seating will be designed to fit with the slope of the existing site.

Those sitting in the covered seating area will be protected from the elements (read: rain) by a translucent roof designed to maximize natural light.

In addition, the roof will act as a water collection point and include a water runoff channeling system.

The theater’s most important function, however, will be to capture and hold the the attention of the public.

The Wild Wonders Theater will do that by featuring live animal presentations, concerts and other special events.

“It’s a very effective way to communicate with people,” Houck observed.

Carolyn Cox, the zoo’s public relations coordinator, agreed: “It’s going to dramatically shift the way animal presentations are done.”

Theater presentations will help the zoo to meet its goals of educating the public and bringing attention to the importance of conservation.

“The next generation is going to have to make some decisions about the environment,” Houck said, citing concerns about mankind’s effect on the natural world.

Toward that end, the theater will not have any light-polluting fixtures in order to reduce sky glow, and recycled building products will be used in the theater’s construction.

The central grassy area of the zoo leading from the entrance will also be totally redone, to include new pathways, benches, plazas, directional signs and other visitor amenities.

Ramps will provide handicapped accessibility from the top level of the zoo to the theater.

In keeping with the ecologically-friendly nature of the project, native drought-tolerant grasses, trees and shrubs will be used.

Preservation of existing significant trees and plants, such as English oaks and camellias, will be a priority as well.

Zoo officials are excited about the overall project and the Wild Wonders Theater and Zoo Hub specifically.

“It’s going to be a good one,” Houck said.