(from a media release, today):
"With the State providing only a portion of funds needed for repair, renovation and growth needs at the North Carolina Zoo, the board of directors of the North Carolina Zoo Society at its quarterly meeting October 11, approved providing $250,000 – the bulk of funding through the construction document phase of planning and design – for a proposed new Children’s Nature Discovery Center.
"At the same time, the Society Directors urged State legislators to provide the financial support the zoo needs to continue to fulfill its conservation and education missions, and to maintain its status as one of the finest natural habitat zoos in the world.
"The Children’s Nature Discovery Center will be a 3 ½-acre facility designed to foster in children a love of nature through interaction, play and discovery in an immersive, natural environment. Children and parents will experience a forest clearing, play stream, learning gardens and more where they will look for beetles in logs, build forts and bird nests, dress like animals, make nature art, hop, skip, jump and dig for worms in self-initiated activities. The zoo has requested $4.2 million in state funds to support the project.
“The Zoo Society is happy to provide funds to complete project design in a timely manner,” Russ Williams, N.C. Zoo Society Executive Director, said. “North Carolina children and zoo visitors deserve the best possible educational experience, so the Society Board calls on the State to provide full funding for the Children’s Nature Discovery Center. The Center will pay for itself many times over by influencing conservation awareness for generations to come.”
"Williams pointed to another project, Watani Grasslands Reserve, to illustrate how the private sector has stepped in to supplement zoo funding needs. Watani Grasslands Reserve is an $8.5 million expansion of the Zoo’s existing African grasslands exhibit to create a facility that will feature an enhanced visitor experience and larger elephant and rhino herds. The improved educational exhibits and expanded natural environments for the animals will make the N.C. Zoo one of the few zoos in the world where elephants and rhinos are likely to produce young, and will position the Zoo as a leader in elephant and rhino conservation.
"Private donors through the Society have provided $6.6 million thus far for the project. At its Wednesday meeting, the Society Board approved up to an additional $500,000 to help the zoo negotiate to obtain additional African elephants. This brings the Society’s total commitment to Watani Grasslands Reserve to $7.5 million.
"Also Wednesday, the board approved a change to Zoo Society staff duties to permit a designated Society staff member to focus on legislative activities. The goal is for the Society to be a stronger advocate for the zoo in State budget deliberations. The zoo requested more than $5.9 million during the last State capital budget cycle, but received $460,274. Combined with this, Society Directors committed to raise $3.5 million in private sector support for the zoo in 2007."