Park Board greenlights zoo aviary

Roosevelt Park Zoo will finally be getting its aviary, Minot Park Board commissioners decided noontime Wednesday.

The board arranged to hold a special session to discuss bids the park district received last month for the project, which would transform the historic, flood-damaged education center into a year-round aviary.

The bids had come back considerably higher than first estimated by architectural firm Anderson Wade & Whitty in May, by about 40 percent, nearing $930,000. Short-handed at the board’s monthly meeting on Dec. 17, commissioners Cliff Hovda and Robert Petry elected to table a decision on the project until more members would be available for discussion.

“I think we need as many of us as possible to make that decision,” Hovda explained.

The architect heading the project, Carter Myre, returned to present the board with the details of his plan.

“Obviously this was the first aviary we’ve ever done,” he explained. The initial draft presented last May had estimated the project at about $628,000. Since then, his firm identified a number of adjustments with the assistance of Dan Boritt, who currently manages the avian exhibits at Indianapolis Zoo.

In the main gallery, the initially-proposed depth of the exhibit enclosures were found to be inadequate. As it is, the concrete flooring is also susceptible to cracks that could become bacterial sinks, endangering the birds’ health. Also a proposed central display, while pleasing to the eye, would freak the birds inside well out, with people looming around them from all sides. These would not alter the number of exhibits planned, with the building still able to accommodate eight or nine displays inside to house a wide variety of species.

Downstairs, a better dehumidification system was needed for the dozen holding areas, of which four would be specifically suited for waterfowl. For health reasons, a kitchen area for the zoo’s animals would have to be better separated from this section. In addition, the site would have to be regraded and the building reinsulated with hardier, spray-in urethane.

Fixtures and wiring would have to be updated and replaced. But while being more than 90 years old, the building itself is still in sound shape. “It is a good building, despite what it’s been through,” Myre said, alluding to the 2011 flood. “The integrity of it is there. It could take a lot more, in my opinion.”

Myre explained that many of these recommended changes could not be taken as optional. “One was so dependent on the other to make it complete, that it couldn’t be done,” he said. “We can’t have one thing and not have the other one.

“Since the last meeting I’ve had a chance to break down some numbers,” he went on, figuring the added features to cost around $84,000, not including the upgraded mechanical systems.

“Those items downstairs are probably the main ones,” he said of the added cost. Despite the additional expenses from the revised plan, he noted that bids still came in higher than anticipated, for reasons he could not put his finger on.

Commissioners were then left to discuss their options. A gift from the Minot Park Foundation of $422,000 was already going toward the project, as was insurance and flood recovery monies that together brought the aviary’s budget to around $620,000. The more than $300,000 shortfall could be covered from Minot Park District’s bond funds, still standing at $1.5 million.

“That’s where I would recommend it comes from,” opined Ron Merritt, the district’s director.

“These differences are very large numbers,” Hovda noted. “Even if we have the money, obviously it can’t be used for something else.” Noting a recent rise in construction pricing he questioned whether the district ought to wait for costs to normalize, though he admitted that they also may not.

“It doesn’t have to be done right now,” Petry said in agreement. “But we do have the resources to do it right now.” He considers the aviary as an opportunity for a new project, the district’s first and most ambitious after close to three years of flood recovery.

“I would hate to see the building sit for any longer,” remarked Richard Sabol, the commissioner presiding over the meeting.

Commissioner Connie Feist moved to accept the general bid by Rolac Construction for $528,800, subcontracting additional work to C&C Plumbing and Heating for $223,450 and Gefroh Electrical for $108,871. With additional bid items of $66,800, the total cost for the project (including contingency sums) came to $928,075. The board approved the bids on the first motion.

“There’s a lot of work that can start right away,” said Myre, with the building’s outside projects awaiting the spring. “We’re still looking at like a July completion.”

“It’s going to be a very dynamic exhibit,” said the zoo director, Dave Merritt. In addition to preserving an historic Minot building, the project will provide the community with an interesting new asset. Plus, the additional winter housing will streamline zoo operations. “If we consolidate our bird collection in one building, it adds efficiency to routine,” he said. They have already begun putting together a list for the future exhibits.