Lowry Park Zoo officials announced an ambitious $10 million capital improvement project that will include a state-of-the-science veterinary hospital. Though the building is still in its planning stages, executives were giddy Friday morning, when they laid out the plans to donors and invited guests.
Zoo employees, two of whom held large owls perched on their forearms, served as a backdrop.
The 11,600-square-foot hospital will be built on a parcel within the park near the Lykes Florida Wildlife Center.
The facility is a major part of a $10 million project that includes replacing and reconfiguring the boardwalks through the animals' enclosures.
Zoo executive director Craig Pugh said $4.7 million already has been pledged. The $10 million will come from private donations, he said.
The campaign was kicked off with a $1 million gift from the Jacarlene Foundation. The goal is to finish the project in October 2012, he said.
Robert Thomas, who co-chairs the campaign with Dick Stohler, said the pledges show the philanthropic community fully supports the plan.
"Having raised $4.7 million," he said, "means we've got a pretty good chunk of this."
The zoo covers 56 acres on the northwest corner of Sligh Avenue and North Boulevard. About 1,600 animals from all over the world call the zoo home.
The hospital is planned to be multifunctional. It will be a veterinary clinic for creatures at the zoo and a research facility. Surgical procedures will take place there, and the building will include a quarantine area for animals being introduced into the zoo's population.
"This is very exciting for the zoo," said Catherine Lowry Straz, chairwoman of the Lowry Park Zoological Society's board of trustees.
Although the zoo has doubled in size since 1988, and the collection of creatures has grown substantially, the veterinary facilities have remained the same.
The zoo needs such a facility to properly care for all of the animals, Stohler said.
"Caring for the animals goes far above what visitors walking through the park would see," he said. "Just like humans, they need care and surgery from time to time."
Larry Killmar, director of collections at the zoo, said, "This is not just another veterinary hospital. This takes this institution to a whole new level. It will help us unlock some of the mysteries we deal with every day."
The building, designed by Elements Architects, will be a certified green building. Zoo officials said they also hope the facility will be accredited by the American Animal Hospital Association. That would make the center the first accredited zoo veterinary hospital in the nation.