Is Packy a good choice for the Rose Parade Grand Marshal?
PORTLAND – The Oregon Zoo has yet to build a number of projects outlined in a $125 million bond measure approved by 60 percent of voters in November 2008.
After a rocky start outlined in a 2009 audit, the unfinished projects now have more firm timelines for construction and completion.
Of the work that has been completed, a new $9 million veterinary medical center opened in January, replacing a much smaller facility. A new water filtration system for the penguin exhibit saves 7.5 million gallons of water a year at a cost of $1.75 million to build.
Next up are expansions of the Asian elephant habitat. Packy, the patriarch bull elephant turned 50 this past week. Zoo leaders hope Packy lives to see his home improved and quadrupled in size, to six acres.
That $49 million project is set to start next year, with completion in 2015.
“That will give the elephants a great new habitat, a lot more indoor space for them to come and go, and all of the principles that we’re applying to this project and all of our animal projects is about choice, activity and animal welfare,” said Oregon Zoo Director Kim Smith.
More: Birthday party for Packy
Metro, the agency that oversees the Oregon Zoo, has an option on property near Sandy for an off-site elephant refuge. The bond measure ballot title and explanatory statement makes no specific mention of such an effort.
The zoo will also break ground in 2013 on a first-ever home to condors, a project outlined in the bond measure. The zoo has long been involved in helping condors make a comeback in the wild, Smith said.
“But now we can bring that story to the zoo for our visitors to see, what does that bird really look like, which is going to be very exciting,” she added.
Also in the works: new habitats for polar bears, mandrills, chimps and rhinos.
An education center for children is also part of the master plan for improvements over the next eight to ten years.
The ballot measure also called for creation of an oversight committee to maintain accountability. That Oregon Zoo Bond Citizens’ Oversight Committee issued a report to the Metro council in February.
"The Better Zoo program has a clear organizational and governance structure, and processes appear to be in place to ensure that Metro will be a good steward of the bond money," the report concluded.
Metro auditor Suzanne Flynn issued an audit a year after the bond measure passed that suggested the bond measure projects were too much for the zoo administrators to handle.
"We found that the management environment at the zoo contributed to poor project management practices," her audit read. "Management made plans based upon unrealistic expectations. Zoo management chose deadlines for maximum public exposure and did not balance them with a methodically determined construction schedule."
More: Read the 2009 audit
A followup audit by Flynn in 2011 determined that many of the problems outlined earlier had been solved and more solid oversight and managerial processes were in place. A part of that effort was the creation of the oversight committee in January, 2010.
"In the two years since that report, Metro has undertaken three bond-funded construction projects and demonstrated improved management practices over costs and schedules," her audit read.
More: Read the 2011 audit