Zoo Atlanta broke ground Tuesday on a new $17 million reptile and amphibian house that will replace one of the oldest structures at the zoo.
Fundraising for the 14,000-square-foot facility — the largest capital campaign in the zoo’s history — is almost complete and will include additional funds to assist the zoo in pursuing conservation efforts.
“It will be our biggest project to date,” Deputy Director Dwight Lawson said, adding that the total fundraising goal is $22 million. Of that goal, the zoo has raised $20 million, mostly from foundations and individuals.
The new reptile house will be located in one of the few unoccupied corners of the zoo’s acreage, near the parking area along Boulevard.
A focal point of the new structure will be a 35-foot-high semi-circular glass rotunda filled with plants and natural rock work that will house, among other animals, a giant Central American crocodile in a 40-foot tank with underwater viewing.
Though the existing facility is somewhat cramped and dark, it has remained one of the more popular features of the zoo, Lawson said. Visitors spend more time there, on average, than other exhibits, partly because it features more than 90 different animals and partly because it’s air-conditioned.
The reptile house will be planned by architects at Torre Design Consortium of New Orleans, the group that also helped create the zoo’s master plan.
Additional elements in the design include a separate building for Southeastern and Georgia animals, a pond and a playground. Lawson said the project should require 18 to 24 months to complete and could open in the late winter or early spring of 2015.
The existing World of Reptiles was constructed 51 years ago. It will remain open as the new building is constructed, then will be demolished, though the zoo plans to save artwork on the front of the building created by Atlantan Julian Harris.