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A glimpse into the Toronto Zoo’s new Wildlife Health Centre

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by Patricia Williams

Toronto’s Gillam Group Inc. is targeting substantial completion this fall on a state-of-the-art facility at the Toronto Zoo designed to position the institution as a world leader in wildlife care and conservation.
A glimpse into the Toronto Zoo’s new Wildlife Health Centre

The 30,000-square-foot Wildlife Health Centre, designed by Diamond Schmitt Architects, will house animal wards, reproductive and veterinary units and a public viewing corridor.

The project incorporates sustainable construction techniques, materials and technology. The construction contract is valued at about $16 million.

Construction on the centre got underway in late April 2015.

Included in the scope of work are some minor renovations of space where the new centre ties into an existing administration building as well as construction of a two-storey addition.

The existing animal hospital was demolished after zoo staff and facilities were relocated to temporary quarters.

Mike Loma, senior project manager at the Gillam Group, said challenges included maintaining within the new construction area the existing electrical room, which services several other areas of the administration complex, demolishing the existing facility around the live electrical room "and then building the new structure around and over top of this room all while maintaining existing services."

The building was topped off in early March of this year. The team includes consulting structural engineers Entuitive and mechanical/electrical engineers H. H. Angus.

Mechanical subcontractor is ENGIE MultiTech Ltd., formerly Cofely Adelt Ltd., a firm with experience in health care environments. Electrical subcontractor is Ontario Electrical Construction Co. Ltd.

"The project started with the zoo relocating their existing animal hospital facilities," Loma said via email.

"And then the Gillam Group came in and demolished the existing animal hospital, similar to slicing the middle out of a loaf of bread, leaving the existing administration facilities on either end.

"(This was done) all while maintaining existing services, sprinklers, hot and cold water lines, heating pipes, data, communications and power lines, travelling between the heel and toe of the loaf of bread."

For the design of the new facility, the zoo engaged Diamond Schmitt in partnership with DesignLevel, an Ohio architectural firm specializing in animal health care facilities.

The firms worked in close consultation with zoo staff to ensure that the facility responded precisely to its range of needs.

The space has been designed to provide ample room for handling animals, post-operative care and modern diagnostic and research equipment

Each year, zoo staff conduct more than 5,000 procedures.

Features include a green roof, an insulated foundation wall, low-flow fixtures, heat recovery systems, natural daylighting, bird-friendly glazing, "high-albedo" hard landscaping and native and water-efficient planting.

"The centre is designed using best practices and with green design in mind," the zoo said via email. "There are various components of the building that would indeed meet LEED requirements.

"The end product will be a sustainable building, but will not be a LEED-certified building."

The new centre will nearly double the size of the original animal health facility. Minor upgrades over the years have done little to increase the quantity and quality of the space, the zoo said.

The Toronto Zoo has in its care more than 5,000 animals, representing almost 450 species.

The Gillam Group was awarded the construction contract in mid-December 2014.

A building permit was issued in February 2015.

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