A baby giant anteater isn’t the only news the Santa Barbara Zoo had to announce this spring. At the end of March, the zoo unveiled its Discovery Pavilion, a grand 9,500-square-foot structure comprising classroom space, an exhibition gallery, a new kitchen in which the animals’ food is prepared, and office and meeting rooms for staff.
The idea for an educational space was bandied about as early as 1982, but it wasn’t until the late ’90s that it was put into motion. “In 1999, we hired [architects], and they started the design process,” said Rich Block, the zoo’s chief executive officer. But there were “bunches of hiccups and starts and stops,” which prolonged the process nearly 15 years.
The new venue anchors the zoo’s entrance promenade and cost $7.5 million — all the money came from the community — to complete. “There was a building built shortly after Lillian Child’s death,” Block said, giving some history of the chosen site. “It was built by volunteers from the fire and police departments for the hobos that used to live here. It was a shower building. Over the years, it morphed into a building that was used by the zoo for multiple purposes. In its last life, it was the backside of the capybara exhibit,” he said. (The capybaras have a brand-new area on the other side of the zoo by the anteaters.)
The highlight of the pavilion is the 2,300-square-foot area that can be used for classroom space. “I cannot emphasize enough that the audience we have wanted to reach that we haven’t been able to connect to is our adults,” Block said. “We have all these opportunities throughout the year to do special, spur-of-the-moment [educational events], and we’ve never been able to take advantage of them because we didn’t have the space.” For example, in 2012, veterinary dentists came up from the San Diego Zoo to work on the elephant Little Mac’s mouth. “It would have been really great to have the team actually be able to share what it’s like working on brick-sized molars and what it takes to do that,” said Block. “Now for specialists that come — experts in different areas of conservation and research and animal husbandry — we have the opportunity to share them with the public.”
Called At the Watering Hole, there are already six informational events lined up for 2014, the next of which will be about the reemergence of the Channel Island fox given by Dr. Estelle Sandhaus, the zoo’s director of conservation and research, and Tim Coonan, a National Park service biologist.
For more information about the upcoming Watering Hole series, visit sbzoo.org.