News

Makeover eyed for Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo

City plans to strike deal with group to rebuild aged Rinconada Park facility

Palo Alto's Junior Museum and Zoo, a popular Rinconada Park destination for children to check out bobcats, turtles and ferrets, may soon be on its way to a dramatic makeover.

The City Council will consider tonight a new agreement with the Friends of the Palo Alto Junior and Museum and Zoo pledging the city's cooperation in a project that the group has been eying for years: the reconstruction of the 1941 facility. The letter of intent between the city and the group would pave the way for the two parties to establish development agreements for the building of a new and enhanced Junior Museum and Zoo, and lay out conditions for the operations of the new facility for up to 40 years.

If the project -- which is still in the very early phases -- takes off, it would be the latest in a string of capital projects to take place in Rinconada Park. The Palo Alto Art Center recently underwent a renovation and the expanded Rinconada Library (formerly known as Main Library) is scheduled to re-open to the public at the end of this year. The city is also now putting the finishing touches on the Rinconada Park Master Plan, a vision document that will explore potential improvements for the sprawling park along Middlefield Road.

The proposed letter of intent with the Friends group doesn't include any information about the design of the new facility or the city's financial obligations when it comes to the project. Barring an objection from the council, these details would be finalized in the next year, as the two sides move ahead with forging development agreements. The city's contributions are expected to be limited. A staff report to the council notes that the Friends group will be "responsible for raising the required funds for the project" and for advocating the facility in the community. City Manager James Keene's proposed letter of intent also points out that the city "does not have sufficient funds to rebuild the existing JMZ (Junior Museum and Zoo) facility and the Parties anticipate that the cost of the operation of the newly designed JMZ facility will exceed the current City's budget appropriations for the JMZ."

But while fundraising by the Friends group is expected to play a big role in the new facility, the letter of intent also suggests that the city will be expected to kick in some money for the project.

"The City desires to stabilize and reduce on a long-term basis its financial support for the JMZ operation and the Friends seek financial support from the City in the initial years of the operation of the rebuilt facility," states the letter of intent from Keene to Aretha Coleman, president of Friends of the Palo Alto Junior and Museum and Zoo.

The group has been talking about renovating the 1941 facility for nearly two decades. In 1997, a report by the consulting firm Adamson Associates deemed the facility overdue for renovation and recommended a seismic upgrade. Five years later, a different consultant commissioned by the Friends group determined that the facility's space demands exceed its capacity.

The most recent study to raise flags about the facility's condition was the 2011 report by the Infrastructure Blue Ribbon Commission, a citizens group that surveyed all of the city's maintenance and facility needs. In its final report, the group pegged the cost of bringing the museum up to shape at $221,000.

For the Friends group, the outreach has already begin. The group has launched what it has called the JMZ Initiative to spread awareness and raise funds for the project.

"The need for rebuilding is urgent because of the aging conditions and limitations of the facilities," a document from the Friends group describing the initiative states. "The timing is right with the development of a Master Plan for Rinconada Park. The community's capacity to fund this project obligates us to act now."

The Friends group also makes a point in the document that increased attendance to the museum and zoo and the rising demand for its educational programs "have outgrown the size of the current facilities." The new facility would include a dedicated area for bus drop-off and a new Science Education Center, according to the document. There would also be a "more organized and secured lobby area" and a replacement of an "outdated HVAC system" with a "variety of environmentally friendly solutions to climate controls."

The council will discuss tonight a set of guiding principles proposed by Keene in negotiations with the Friends group. These include stabilizing and reducing the city's long-term financial support for the museum's operations; establishing a long-term structure for financial and programmatic oversight of the operations; and reaching an agreement within 12 months.

Comments

5 people like this
Posted by Susa
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 10, 2014 at 10:32 am

Please let's have a design in keeping with traditional Palo Alto charm like Lucie Stern plus lots of trees and greenery.


8 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 10, 2014 at 11:27 am

how does the city manager decide "does not have sufficient funds to rebuild the existing JMZ (Junior Museum and Zoo) facility and the Parties anticipate that the cost of the operation of the newly designed JMZ facility will exceed the current City's budget appropriations for the JMZ."

but then the city does have the funds to expand the remodel of the city hall lobby from $1 million to $4 million, or the California Ave rennovation from $1.5 million to $7 million?

I hope the new members of the city council will set priorities and not let the city manager lead them around on a leash on what projects get funding and which ones don't.


4 people like this
Posted by Snarky
a resident of Menlo Park
on Nov 10, 2014 at 11:31 am

Let's hope the City of Palo Alto has a 'limited' engagement on the project management along with the budget. Otherwise we can expect it to take more than a decade.


4 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 10, 2014 at 12:14 pm

I have no idea what condition the Museum and Zoo are in as I haven't had cause to visit them since my kids aged.

But, surely the dilapidated Baylands Board Walk and Interpretive Center are a greater need?

When will work start on these two much loved and in great need facilities?


3 people like this
Posted by Guest
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 10, 2014 at 1:14 pm

@Resident

I assume after the City Hall Renovations are done and management gets a raise?


11 people like this
Posted by Richard C. Placone
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 10, 2014 at 1:36 pm

Its not a money issue for me. Even if the Friends group pays for the entire project including ongoing operations, I would oppose this on grounds that the era of zoos, large and small, is coming to an end. Esp small cramped operations like this one. Last time I was there the Bobcat was pacing aback and forth until a groove was worn in the dirt. The racoons were in a sunken pit nothing like their natural habitat A raptor, either an eagle or a red tail hawk, I can't remember which, was in a small wire cage where it could fly but a matter of a few feet. If these are injured animals unable to survive in the wild, there are places where such creatures can be placed in more natural and roomy habitats. With all the programs on Nova and Nature on TV, children can learn the proper respect for wild animals and see them in their natural habitat and in action. Moreover, there is a farm in the nearby foothills where children can view farm animals in pastures. The baby goats and sheep are adorable, and in large open pastures - at least that is the way it was last time I visited. Even the SF Zoo would be a better alternative for children to learn about animals, but that zoo too is outmoded.


8 people like this
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 10, 2014 at 1:58 pm

> I would oppose this on grounds that the era of zoos, large and small, is coming to an end.

I completely agree with you, Richard. Imprisoning wild animals is unethical, and a very bad thing to show our kids. It is time to shut down all zoos, unless they are part of a necessary breeding project for reintroducing to the wild.


Like this comment
Posted by Not-A-PETA-Fan
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 10, 2014 at 5:07 pm

> Imprisoning wild animals is unethical, and a very bad thing to show our kids.

Having problems with this opinion. Sure--scrunching animals into cages that are too small is not a good thing, but its as hard for me to accept that its unethical for operate zoos for our edification, as it is for me to believe its unethical to kill animals for food.


Like this comment
Posted by Palo Altan
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 10, 2014 at 6:08 pm

I, too, hope the new Junior Museum design will be in keeping with the Lucie Stern Center. A new building, recently built behind the Junior Museum, is a hideous modernistic box. Who made the decision for such a horrendous structure?


1 person likes this
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 11, 2014 at 7:29 am

>as hard for me to accept that its unethical for operate zoos for our edification, as it is for me to believe its unethical to kill animals for food.

If we take the 'wild' out of wildlife, and imprison them, we end up with neurotic creatures that teach little of value...in fact, it teaches our kids a distorted view of wildlife. Much better that the kids watch a well-produced nature film.

I have no problem with using domesticated animals for food...that is what they were bred and cared for. I am not part of PETA, either.


1 person likes this
Posted by DC
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 11, 2014 at 10:39 am

Mr's Laughten & Placone, I disagree. There are now more of some species of big cats in captivity than in the wild; would you have them disappear in the name of "freedom"? Advances in treating many many wild species have come from work with animals in zoos; would you have them NOT be helped, but suffer? Just how SIMPLE do you think this issue really is, gentlemen?

I grew up here. I remember going to the Jr Museum as a child. I remember holding a snakeskin for the first time, learning about animals and birds and the interrelation of habitats. It seeded a life-long love of and desire to protect our wild spaces and species. Might I have come to it anyway? Who knows. But why deny even one child the opportunity to learn ANYTHING? Especially in these days of vanishing wild places and animals? And what better way to do so than an interactive environment such as this?

I look forward to helping rebuild the Junior Museum for future techies/vets/rangers/CEO's/physicians/people. THIS is where it starts, gentlemen.


1 person likes this
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Nov 11, 2014 at 11:38 am

It's *always* been a terrible place for some of their animals. I'm surprised that they're able to get away with it remaining such a terrible place.


Like this comment
Posted by Roxy
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 11, 2014 at 12:08 pm


To say that some TV documentary is as beneficial as seeing the animal live in a zoo setting is ridiculous. What a short-sighted and financially elitist viewpoint. The conservationists of tomorrow can only derive inspiration from television, or actually seeing animals in the wild?

(By the way, I love all animals, have 2 rescue dogs, and do a lot of volunteer work for the Palo Alto Humane Society.)


Like this comment
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 11, 2014 at 1:44 pm

>The conservationists of tomorrow can only derive inspiration from television, or actually seeing animals in the wild?

Yes, that should be the model. Wild lands and wildlife should be preserved in their natural states. People can then trek to see them...the real thing. I am a conservationist, and I have always been turned off by zoos. Zoos are an anachronism that should be allowed a quiet death.


Like this comment
Posted by Roxy
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 11, 2014 at 2:42 pm

Oh, so according to some, we can only observe the wildlife that we have direct access to. No child raised in the U.S. should ever see a live polar bear, kangaroo, penguin, tiger, toucan, zebra (etc.). Apparently, they should just rely on seeing well-produced nature films.
So much for raising citizens of the world.


1 person likes this
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 11, 2014 at 2:59 pm

>So much for raising citizens of the world.

I feel like a better citizen of the world if I don't steal its wildlife for my personal viewing pleasure. The nature films will do for me...there are some amazing films out there. I give money to conservation funds that help to preserve wild animals that I probably will never see in the wild...makes me feel good.

Our kids should be taught to respect wildlife, and not to exploit it.


Like this comment
Posted by A Reader
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 11, 2014 at 5:10 pm

Anyone have a kink to the. lastest Rinconada Park Master plan? Thanks.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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