Governor Chris Christie joined Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. Thursday at the groundbreaking of the new Essex County Turtle Back Zoo Education Building.
The new, 12,000-square-foot building provides four additional classrooms for educational programming and summer camps, exhibit areas and a second entrance to the Zoo for groups arriving by bus or individuals who park in the Park N Ride.
“There is no doubt that Essex County Turtle Back Zoo has become a major destination. We have been named the best Zoo in New Jersey for the last three years and are on pace to surpass 600,000 in annual attendance for the first time ever. This is phenomenal growth that has made us look at how we can expand the zoo so everyone continues to have a great experience,” DiVincenzo said.
“Today’s groundbreaking marks the latest expansion for Turtle Back Zoo and another opportunity for New Jerseyans to enjoy the upgraded facilities and programs available at the Zoo,” said Governor Chris Christie, who served as the Honorary Chairman of the Turtle Back Zoo’s 50th Anniversary Gala, which raised money for the capital campaign to construct the new education building.
“I have many fond memories of visiting Turtle Back Zoo as a child and I thank County Executive DiVincenzo for his leadership and efforts to ensure that many more generations of New Jersey residents, especially children and students, are able to create their own memories visiting the Zoo,” he added.
This 12,000-square-foot, two-story facility will be developed in the eastern section of the zoo near the Treetop Adventure Course and Endangered Species Carousel. The first floor will have four classrooms with moveable walls, enabling the size of the rooms to be changed, along with a large lobby, six exhibit areas, animal holding areas and storage rooms. The second floor is half the size of the first floor and will have office space for the Zoo Director, Animal Curator and a conference/break room. A large portion of the second floor will be an open-air space that can be used as an outdoor classroom. The second floor will have the Treetop Adventure Course as its view.
“This facility will assist us greatly in furthering our mission of promoting conservation and awareness about animals and the environment, as well as providing an improved experience for our visitors. It also will serve as a second entrance to the zoo, providing those arriving by bus a safer and more efficient entry into our facility,” said DiVincenzo.
Educational programming for the new building is being underwritten with a 10-year grant from Millburn resident Marc E. Berson, Chairman of The Fidelco Group.
“Our family is proud to be a part of the incredible change and growth to The Turtle Back Zoo, a major destination in Essex County that was scheduled to be shut down not long ago. Boating, mini golf, climbing, skating, sea lions and now the expansion of education with a phenomenal new facility is truly government at its best,” said Kerri H. Berson from The Fidelco Group.
In addition to providing space for educational programs, the new building will serve as a second entrance for groups arriving by bus. The second point of entry will relieve congestion at the original entrance. Since the new building will be constructed on the old bus parking area, a new bus parking area was created at the Oakdale section in South Mountain Reservation across the street from the paddle boating and picnic area at the Orange Reservoir.Quite simply, Turtle Back has a mission to promote education, conservation and recreation. This new facility will allow us to jump start our education program because it gives us the ability to introduce more programs at the site,” Acting Zoo Director Brint Spencer said. “In addition to the additional classrooms, there is three times as much space for animal holding areas, which will give us the opportunity to present new programs and highlight more diverse animals,” he added.