Plans for the historic Museum of Science at the Toledo Zoo are coming into focus as renovation work continues inside and out.
The Toledo Zoo has begun a renovation to its Museum of Science that will include new greenhouses, animal exhibits and interactive, educational features. The museum has been closed about a year and is slated to reopen in 2019.
The museum, one of the zoo’s treasured Works Progress Administration buildings, most recently housed primarily administration and education program offices, along with amphibian and insect exhibits. It also provided space for demonstrations and special events.
The entire second floor and numerous other areas have been off limits to visitors for years.
“With the way the museum has been the last 50 years, most Toledo visitors haven’t seen the full museum,” said Kent Bekker, director of conservation and research. “It’s been held down with office spaces or classrooms, and now it’s all going to go back to being accessible to the public.”
The building will again become a museum with exhibits centered around biodiversity both locally and within a global context. But it won’t be simply a passive experience as a traditional museum is.
Visitors now are seeing construction on the exterior of the museum. The zoo is erecting greenhouses attached to the building, one in front and one in back. The structures are tied into the museum’s existing bones while preserving the historic facade.
The larger greenhouse in front of the museum will be a two-story, climate-controlled tropical exhibit. Visitors will be able to walk on a section of the museum’s roof to access the upper portion.
The Toledo Zoo has begun a renovation to its museum that will include new greenhouses, animal exhibits and interactive, educational features.
“When people think about biodiversity, they often think about the tropical rainforest,” Mr. Bekker said. “The tie-in locally is that a lot of bird species here do over-winter in those tropical locations.”
A smaller, single-story greenhouse in the rear of the museum will feature a walk-through prairie setting. Both greenhouses will exhibit primarily plants, but the zoo plans to add appropriate free-roaming animal species like birds, butterflies, turtles, frogs, and lizards.
“It’s very participatory and experience-based, so it’s not purely just standing and looking at things,” said Jennifer Van Horn, facilities construction project manager and master plan coordinator-designer. “And because we do have the capability of having animals, being at the zoo, we are going to have animals integrated throughout the displays.”
Mr. Bekker said many of the species that had been in the museum will be worked back into the all-new exhibits.
“A lot of the species we’re highlighting are tied to our conservation programs,” he said.
The $27 million project — part of the zoo’s 10-year master plan — is on track for a grand reopening in the spring of 2019. About 70 percent of the funding is coming from the zoo’s capital levy, and about 23 percent was raised through the zoo’s foundation, private funds, donations, and grants. The remaining 7 percent will come from earned operations revenue.
Interior renovation work has yet to truly get under way, but Ms. Van Horn said some selective exploratory demolition has been done inside.
“We’ve actually discovered some really unique things,” she said. “We had carpet and we knew we had something else underneath but didn’t know exactly. In the old finance and [human resources] area, we assumed it was limestone, but we found the historic terrazzo. And in what we call the Spanish Room, we assumed the same thing, and it’s actually Spanish tile.”
The zoo is planning exhibits featuring Ohio ecosystems and taxanomic groups of species connected to similar ecosystems and species around the world. The zoo’s animal collection will enhance their appropriate displays.
“A good example might be the wetlands area,” Mr. Bekker said. “The area around it will be classical museum dioramas, but in the middle will be large exhibit of a current Ohio marsh. So it’ll be a mixed-species exhibit with turtles and fish.”
A streams and rivers exhibit will have touch tanks whereby visitors can get hands-on with Ohio species, similar to touch tanks in the zoo’s recently renovated historic aquarium.
“The invertebrate touch tank will be a little different,” Mr. Bekker said. “The goal is to mimic what most of us probably experienced as kids when you go down to the creek and flip rocks and find crayfish and snails and things. It’s encouraging people to explore that local ecosystem and highlighting what, frankly, a lot of people don’t do any more.”
A breeding pair of Komodo Dragons, whose female is pictured, will be a new display once the renovation of the museum is complete. The museum will also include a number of biodiversity exhibits.
The zoo has already acquired a breeding pair of young Komodo dragons to be included in an exhibit related to venom. The 4-year-old pair arrived in October and have taken up temporary residence in a nearby building being used as a staging area for the museum.
R. Andrew Odum, curator of herpetology, said Komodo dragons are the largest lizards in the world and their saliva is venomous. They are native to a few islands in Indonesia.
“The adults are known to kill water buffalo,” Mr. Odum said. “Their saliva has a lot of components in it that are venomous and break down tissue.”
The zoo hasn’t had Komodo dragons for about 10 years. The 16-pound male, loaned by the Memphis Zoo, came here from the Phoenix Zoo. The Los Angeles Zoo transferred ownership of the 26-pound female to Toledo when she came from the Nashville Zoo.
“We’re putting together a facility where we have a good chance to breed them,” Mr. Odum said. “It’s never 100 percent sure, but we’ve put an enormous amount of thought into providing a very good environment for them and allow them to reproduce.”
Additional exhibits will include one with scientific models of species that roamed Ohio 13,000 years ago and a glacier wall with a chilled section to allow visitors to feel the simulated ice. Another display, being called Nature In Hand, will be all about getting hands-on with pelts, skulls, and other specimens.
“Historically, museums had a very hands-off approach,” Mr. Bekker said. “So what we’re doing is kind of like a library for biofacts. People will be encouraged to explore the drawers full of biofacts. They can pick up the skull or explore the jar with whatever thing in it.”
The Toledo Zoo has begun a renovation to its museum that will include new greenhouses, animal exhibits and interactive, educational features. Designers are looking to keep the flair of the original WPA construction from the 1930's intact with the new updates. THE BLADE/KATIE RAUSCH
The museum’s theater will undergo dramatic change. The historic beams, stained glass, and other such features will be retained, but the sloped floor will be excavated to a level surface and visitors will be able to exit the theater into the museum’s basement. The stage will be taken back to its smaller historical size.
The theater will have full audio-visual capabilities, but will become a more flexible space that can be used for a variety of public and private events.
“During a normal zoo visit, it will have a display that’s really highlighting the history of the zoo with some original artifacts from the zoo and the museum when it opened,” Ms. Van Horn said.
The theater, in particular, demonstrated an overall accessibility issue for visitors with disabilities inside the museum, which was dedicated in 1936. Renovations, like the installation of an elevator, will address those problems.
“When we look at our WPA buildings, we really want to preserve the history and architecture while making it a usable space,” Ms. Van Horn said. “Accessibility was a real challenge.”
While the zoo always anticipates a few hiccups along the way, the museum work thus far has yet to reveal any unexpected problems.
“WPA architecture and construction is so impressive,” Ms. Van Horn said. “It’s in such good shape. We always run into things with construction, but we’ve renovated a few WPA buildings and we know kind of what we’re expecting.”
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