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How the Cincinnati Zoo's Entry Village is setting the tone for other projects to follow

Since we started working on the capital projects for the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, my perspective on construction is forever changed. I've learned a lot about the different animals, like the weight and reach of elephants, the grade required for kangaroos to hop and the extent to which polar bears have become endangered. Then there is the horticulture that has to be carefully considered - not just working around the different plants, but also working with the zoo to create scenic views during construction. It's very different than throwing up a fence, constructing a building and working around people.

What has been even more impactful to me than the environment is the client and their genuine dedication to sustainability and their community. These aren't just goals to be considered when it makes sense. They are commitments that drive every decision. As we finish the Entry Village project at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden this summer, I think: What a way to start. This project is preparing the way for all of the other animal habitats and major projects to come. Though on the surface an entrance renovation doesn't sound that exciting, how they've thought about every piece in a deliberate manner is impressive:

  • Creating a new scenic pathway into the zoo - with a "preview" of the elephant habitat for visitors while they wait in line
  • Adding a new Welcome Center for better access to visitor amenities - including a green living wall
  • Adding a new Calming Room for those with sensory and special needs
  • Extending the plaza with discretely placed electrical outlets for food trucks and other events
Expansion of the Cincinnati Zoo Elephant Habitat

As part of the new Entry Village project, we also expanded the elephant yard, removing a moat and adding More Home to Roam®. The foundations go over 12 feet deep and the outside posts and cables are reinforced to support the additional weight of the bull elephant so both the cows and the bull can enjoy the new space together. A path runs along the perimeter of the outside barrier, providing new space for trainers to work with the elephants, which they didn't have before. Finally, remaining true to their commitment, the zoo is also testing a new mixture of sand from local suppliers, which supports the local community and reduces emissions from shipping sand from an outside supplier. So far, the elephants approve. I was present when the new yard was opened to the elephants for the first time. As far as I could tell, they were happy. In fact, you can see dirt smeared on the posts along the perimeter from playing in the mud and then rubbing up against them. The extended space is serving them well until they move into a new, permanent home that will be constructed in a few more years.

As the first project in this capital campaign, Entry Village has effectively accomplished the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden's goals of sustainability, creating access for all and improving animal welfare. If you think this is impressive, wait for what's next. We're only getting started!

Click here to learn more about the capital campaign or to support the zoo. 

About the Author

JD Barnes

JD Barnes, LEED® APSenior Project Manager, Ohio

JD has been in the construction industry for over a decade with expertise in the civic and cultural, commercial interiors, healthcare and higher education markets.  His experience in a variety of markets allows him to bring new ideas and insight to our clients and their projects. JD has a passion for leveraging technology to improve how we build, communicate our plans with our clients and help them visualize their projects. 

A dedicated volunteer for the annual Little Miami River Clean Up and the Lincoln Heights Missionary Baptist Church food drive, JD is committed to helping build stronger, healthier communities.  He currently serves as the Treasurer/Secretary of the NKU Construction Management Industrial Advisory Board.  Addtionally, JD is assisting in this year's coordination of volunteers and construction schedules for the Reds Community Fund field renovation projects.

JD holds a Bachelor of Science in Construction Engineering from Purdue University.  He is ASCHE – Healthcare Certified, Green Advantage Certified and is a LEED AP.