News


Big growth spurt eyed for Junior Museum & Zoo

City looks to double the size of popular Rinconada Park museum

Palo Alto's Junior Museum & Zoo would be demolished and rebuilt at twice its current size as part of an ambitious makeover that the city is now launching at the popular Rinconada Park attraction.

The plan, which was unveiled to the Architectural Review Board on Thursday, calls for a significant expansion in both the size of the Middlefield Road facility -- to 18,250 square feet -- and its educational offerings. The small campus would also include an entrance plaza with a drop-off zone and pathways connecting parking areas to the education wing.

The first floor of the main building would include a lobby, exhibit galleries, visitor amenities, an educational classroom and collection storage, according to a report from John Aikin, program manager at the Junior Museum & Zoo. The second floor would feature overlooks into the exhibit galleries, office space for staff and outdoor decks with gathering spaces.

The goal of the project, according to Aikin, is to meet a growing demand for the museum's educational services and to update the aging 1941 facility that has a "cumbersome layout." He noted that the Junior Museum & Zoo has been steadily increasing the education programs delivered outside the museum, while its offerings in the museum itself have remained flat because of the site's constraints.

"The JMZ can currently serve just over 40 percent of overall requests for some classes and camps," Aikin wrote. "As a result, the JMZ must upgrade the facilities in order to meet the demand and maintain the quality of the JMZ experience."

In addition to increasing the number of students served annually by the museum from 16,700 to 21,000, the project would revamp the facility's storage and curation spaces and allow the museum to better house its rescued animals. In addition to the new museum building, the zoo will now include an additional 18,600-square-foot landscape referred to as "loose-in-the-zoo," featuring existing and new animal exhibits, including a meerkat colony and a butterfly gallery. It would be enclosed under a large protective net, allowing birds to fly about.

"We're giving new life to this jewel in Palo Alto, which is seated in a community park that has a lot of children assets," Aikin said at Thursday's meeting.

The new zoo would also include a separate one-story structure with rooms for animal care and feeding. This 4,300-square-foot building would come with a 3,500-square-foot yard.

Though the renovation plan is still in its early phases, it is already generating buzz and plaudits from city officials. Last November, the City Council unanimously approved a new letter of intent with the Friends of the Junior Museum & Zoo, a volunteer group that is supplying most of the funds for the renovation project. The letter expressed the two sides' mutual interest in coming up with development agreements that would allow for the museum's reconstruction and lay out the conditions of its operation.

On Thursday, the Architectural Review Board also waxed enthusiastic about the plan to enhance the beloved institution, which is well-known locally for its butterflies, ferrets and bobcats. Members were less ecstatic, however, about the actual architecture. Several board members criticized the proposed two-story building for having too much mass and not enough whimsy. Vice Chair Robert Gooyer suggested the proposed building just "looks like an office building that can fit anywhere."

Chair Randy Popp, who noted the Junior Museum & Zoo was one of the first places his family visited when it moved to Palo Alto more than four decades ago, said he was excited about the project, even though the main building in its current iteration "isn't as exciting as we want it to be." He said that he would like to see "how playful, fun and inventive this can be."

"Building a new building gives us an opportunity to do something that is of today and of now and sets the tone for what's to come and doesn't need to be reflective or repetitive of what's existing," Popp said during the board's preliminary review, a type of hearing during which no action is taken.

The renovation of the Junior Museum & Zoo is the latest in a crop of ambitious capital projects that the city has undertaken around the Rinconada Park area, including the Palo Alto Art Center renovation completed in 2012 and the recently opened Rinconada Library.

Comments

11 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 20, 2015 at 11:40 am

How much will this new zoo cost? Why are we sacrificing parkland for this? Why is there no mention of those of us who filled out the survey opposing this?

Also, what are the other "capital-intensive" projects planned?

Does PA ever get tired of spending our money?


1 person likes this
Posted by Nokidding
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 20, 2015 at 11:52 am

I have to guess the money is coming from donation and not on a spending spree! I could be wrong again.


10 people like this
Posted by Read the story
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 20, 2015 at 1:04 pm

If you had read the story you would see that the bulk of the funds were coming from the Friends of the Junior Museum & Zoo.


10 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 20, 2015 at 2:26 pm

Another make over for another park and still Baylands has not been addressed.

Yes I know someone said it is in the works, but we are still waiting to hear what, and when, and even some basic improvements would be nice.


4 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 20, 2015 at 3:50 pm

The difference is obvious - donations will fund a bulk of the Jr. Museum remodeling. No donations for the Baylands? If it's important to you, perhaps you should band together with your other Bayland supporters and look at organizing a funding campaign. Just a thought.


2 people like this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 21, 2015 at 10:49 am

If the parking lot is re-made, can they please make it pedestrian-friendly for locals who walk through the area? I walk through there as a cut-through to where I want to go, that is currently easy to do, and I hope they don't re-configure the campus to preclude that.
I think it's good to have educational facilities like this Junior Museum and Zoo for youth - sounds fun; I also would like the Baylands to be renovated so the boardwalk is accessible and safe again and reasonably attractive (not run-down).


16 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 21, 2015 at 11:23 am

I think the Junior Museum and Zoo is a gem in Palo Alto. So many of our children have grown up with this great learning experience right at our back door and it will surely be enjoyed for generations to come. I'm all for expanding and renovating this treasure. I see it as an investment for our community.


2 people like this
Posted by Options please!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 21, 2015 at 3:14 pm

Crescent Park Dad

You are so wrong that this is about pay to play.

Gennady - would you be able to please report on the following

1. Who are the Friends of the Junior Museum & Zoo? Is the developer or architect of this project an interested party.

2. Is it not a requirement to have options for such visible public projects? The recent bridge deal was a near fiasco if it had not been for competing visions.

3. The extra property this project "needs"? Who decided to give that OK?

Shockingly, the ARB found an ugly glass building that it did not swoon over.

There may be other ways to expand programs, and if demand tripled, would we really need to triple the size of the building?

Please consider providing the background to this building, and I hope it's not too late to have a competitive process to choose an architect.


3 people like this
Posted by Options please!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 21, 2015 at 3:19 pm

OK it's not all glass but it's an eye sore.

Built with all the "needs" (storage and all) which are looking at it from the inside, but with no clue about the impact on the outside. It's ridiculous.


9 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 23, 2015 at 9:12 am

It looks like another ugly glass, characterless building from the picture. I am now very wary of any artist's impressions of any public buildings in Palo Alto. Please can we retain some of the character that the present buildings present.


3 people like this
Posted by Resident 99
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 23, 2015 at 9:34 am

This will be funded 100% by donations raised by the Friends. The JMZ is an ancient gem that really needs an upgrade. And to those calling this "another glass box", I think it looks great. Not a big fan of the new library but this is completely different and much nicer looking. Can't wait!


5 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 23, 2015 at 10:58 am

Pic looks great and looking forward to the upgrade!

Sick and tired of all the negativity I read on these forums. Stop complaining/whining folks.


5 people like this
Posted by Zoo fan
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 23, 2015 at 11:35 am

im fine with this as long as it doesn't look like the IKEA Mitchell park library. Keep it looking cute like town n country.


4 people like this
Posted by Walter Hays Parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 23, 2015 at 11:44 am

An issue that has not been discussed is parking. Increasing the size of the JMZ will likely increase the number of car trips in the area, and Increase the need for parking. The current JMZ lot is already shared by Walter Hays, the Lucie Stern Community Center and Theater, and the Children's library. During certain times (school drop-off and pick-up, story time at the library, or a big play at the theater) it is already difficult to find parking. I hope the discussion about the JMZ includes a discussion of traffic impact and parking needs.


1 person likes this
Posted by GreatIdea
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 23, 2015 at 11:44 am

Yeah!!!!
A wonderful thing for a wonderful institution.
BTW, here is a link to the Board of the Friends of the Junior Museum & Zoo ==> Web Link


4 people like this
Posted by Ellie
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 23, 2015 at 12:33 pm

Don't rebuild the zoo. Why in 2015 is Palo Alto wanting to keep and enlarge a zoo? If you want to see animals, go to Byxbee or Foothills Park, or if you must, go to the SF zoo. Many places are refusing to build more and even some are being phased out as of another era where we had less consciousness about how we treat animals.

Why do we think we need our kids to see animals in captivity - what positive message does that convey? That we are dominant over all other species so are therefore entitled to decide when to lock them up? That's not a message an enlightened community should support. Unless animals are entirely unable to live in the wild anymore or part of an endangered species propagation program to save the species, they should not be captured for our viewing pleasure. As I said, don't rebuild the zoo.


4 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Walter Hays School
on Mar 23, 2015 at 1:32 pm

The "Friends" plan to run and operate the building and its employees as soon as the building is complete. Fees will be required and who knows what will happen to the current employees. No one has addressed what qualifications long term does the "Friends" have to run and maintain a building and its employees. Strange that they won't just raise the money to fund the building they require a full take-over from the City of Palo Alto. Something seems wrong with that.


Like this comment
Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 23, 2015 at 1:37 pm

This is wonderful news! The Junior Museum not only hosts great classes and exhibits, but also send staff to many of our elementary schools to teach science classes. I agree that the museum should have whimsy and fun as part of its architecture!

@ellie - if I remember correctly, the animals in the zoo are mainly ones that could not live in the wild.


1 person likes this
Posted by DT North
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 23, 2015 at 1:40 pm

Ellie - Several of the animals in the zoo were injured and cannot live in the wild. My kids LOVED this place I can't understand the negativity. One does not always have time to go to one of the more faraway places, it is a great place to take your preschooler - early elementary kid for a couple of hours and the classes are great. My only question is, why was so much remodeling done recently if the plan was to tear it down and start over. I thought a lot of fundraising went into these new habitats? Hopefully some of that can be salvaged?


1 person likes this
Posted by Options please!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 23, 2015 at 1:51 pm

GreatIdea,

NOtT such a good idea

Steve Emslie - a "Friend" really?

Web Link

As in the Arrillaga affair, grand jury?

The title of "Friends" should not entitle this group to anything without public input, and I would have thought that includes architecture options.

If this is a similar connection between Friends, the developer, similar to the Arrillaga theater at 25 University (architect was on the Theater board), it should be disclosed.


1 person likes this
Posted by Options please!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 23, 2015 at 2:00 pm

Also among the "Friends" a builder and a "property" something or other.

This is very different than the Library, I think the Library people actually cared about the Library.

Kids are little, why would you need such a big building?


3 people like this
Posted by Options please!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 23, 2015 at 2:03 pm

The Friends can be better friends if they offer other architectural options, at least 3 architects with the goal to do more with less space.

Are the Friends really paying 100% of the renovation? Details please.


6 people like this
Posted by Heidi R.
a resident of Stanford
on Mar 23, 2015 at 4:34 pm

I like the Junior Zoo the way it is. I don't like the idea of demolishing and rebuilding. We are losing so much of what is charming about Palo Alto with this influx of $ and people. We are bursting at the seams as is. The last thing we need is MORE incentive to drive people to Palo Alto.


2 people like this
Posted by Pat Markevitch
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 23, 2015 at 6:36 pm

The reconfiguration of the parking lot will close off the driveway that is directly in front of the JMZ and will add 20 parking spaces to the lot.


1 person likes this
Posted by Mike Alexander
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Mar 23, 2015 at 7:00 pm

This Study Session was the architect's first presentation of the project to ARB, and lasted nearly an hour. I had many questions after reading this article, most of which were answered by watching video of the session (see Web Link). ARB does not like the design that was presented, that was clear, and it will have to change substantially going forward.


5 people like this
Posted by PA
a resident of Walter Hays School
on Mar 23, 2015 at 9:55 pm

I believe the parking lot will only get 10 additional spaces. So, build a building 3 times larger than what it already is and only create 10 additional parking lot spaces is problematic to say the least. The traffic and parking among the streets will quadruple unless this is brought to public attention the residents surrounding the JMZ will permanently pay the price. That may bring down the property value of homes.


1 person likes this
Posted by Got a chuckle
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 24, 2015 at 12:22 am

I really got a chuckle reading the "Friends" list. Steve Emslie, whose secret meetings with Arrillaga brought a critical county Grand Jury report on the city. Don't people experience shame any more?
And Bern Beecham is on so many development boards, libraries, Avenidas, you name it.
Lots of folks and their friends are going to make lots of money here, never enough, it seems.
Tear everything down, that's the motto.


1 person likes this
Posted by Just right
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 24, 2015 at 2:22 am

I'm not happy with the direction the zoo has been going in for several years now. I'm glad my own got to enjoy it when it was more low-key. The small scope, and focus on local animals, made it perfect. I especially appreciated the ability to sit and let the kids roam safely and enjoy the space. There are lots of spaces to go that are larger and where a certain amount of chaperoning is necessary. Palo Alto was really unique in how it was geared to the really young kids.

It also had the most amazing new tactile exhibits every year. The director went to Curiodessey, where the exhibits have improved a lot.

I haven't been happy with how "outsized" the exhibit redos have been in recent years. It's making the zoo feel impersonal. Probably the best thing about it was the small size. Moms could participate with their kids or let them have the run of the place. It saved me many a time. I think the new director new got that -- how important what was there was to moms of very young children, and how unique the place was among all the other resources.

I agree the building could use some updating, but please not Happy Hollow in Palo Alto, what we have is unique and just right.


2 people like this
Posted by Just right
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 24, 2015 at 2:24 am

I meant -- I think the new director NEVER got that -- how important what was there was to moms of very young children, and how unique the place was among all the other resources.

Well, the staff is first rate. I'm sure the science program will remain the greatest.


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

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