– By Jedd Pellerin, project architect
Brand new zoos and aquariums are not built every day. Therefore, much of the design and planning work we do at PGAV is for existing facilities. Carrying out renovation work in these facilities while still keeping the doors open, the animals safe, and maintaining a high-level guest experience, offers a unique set of challenges for us as designers. On renovation/addition projects, there is always demolition – and often excavation – work. In most instances, there are also parts of the building that will be inaccessible during construction, mechanical and electrical equipment that will need to be taken off-line, temporary relocation of spaces (like retail, restrooms, and entries and exits), and the integration of all the old and new building elements with one another.
If you’ve ever had renovation work done to your home while you tried to continue living in it, then you have some understanding of the issues related to this situation… How long will we not be able to use the kitchen, or one of the bathrooms?… We need to move Susie’s bed into the living room for two nights while the floor is being refinished in her bedroom… Can we get a crane into the backyard to take down that old dying tree without taking our entire brand new fence down?… Sound familiar?
Just as in your home project, thoughtful planning is key for any renovation project. Some critical questions we always ask and work through with the owner and contractor from the very beginning of the project are:
- Do we need to relocate animals? Noise and vibration from construction work can be a problem for many types of animal species. Even if we are not working directly on or adjacent to their habitat, we may still need to take precautions to avoid causing distress.
- Does the renovation work affect how we will get people safely in and out of the building? This can be one of the trickiest parts of planning for renovation. Often times the entry and exit paths may need to change several times as the area of work changes throughout construction.
- Can we safely avoid shutting down the facility and still get all the work done? We have had great success in working with our clients to keep their facilities up and running during construction over the years. In many instances, working with contractors to perform higher-risk, noisier, or more disruptive tasks after normal operating hours can eliminate the need for a temporary shutdown. On the rare occasion that a shutdown simply can’t be avoided, it’s our job as designers to help identify those instances, communicate our concerns to our clients, and help formulate a phasing plan that minimizes downtime.
- What systems within the building (lighting, animal life safety, sprinklers, plumbing, air conditioning, etc) might we need to find temporary workarounds for during construction? This is also a huge, on-going coordination effort throughout the project that involves everyone from designers and engineers to facilities staff. Ensuring that LSS, HVAC, and Plumbing systems are all functioning properly is critical to maintaining a safe and healthy environment for both animals and guests.
In answering these and the other thousands of questions that come up along the way in these types of projects, we also look for ways to make the interim operations more than simply functional. Having to temporarily re-route guest paths, retail spaces, and such can offer opportunities for new guest experiences. It can also allow our clients to test out different operational methodologies as well. We recently had one client on a major renovation that found that the temporary entry we set up to get them through construction worked far better than what they had previously. As a result we worked with them to develop a plan to enhance the temporary entry and exit to become a permanent solution.
While renovation work, particularly on large-scale zoo and aquarium projects, comes with a unique (and sometimes seemingly endless) set of challenges, it is also inspiring to play a part in the continuing, incremental evolution of these important civic institutions.