Building Green

« Back to February 2009




By Eric Klinger

In 2007, The Toledo Zoo adopted a new Mission Statement. It reads as follows: Inspiring others to join us in caring for animals and conserving the natural world.  Those fourteen words mark a bold step for all of us at the Zoo. With this new Mission Statement, The Toledo Zoo has made a decisive move to place conservation front and center in every aspect of its activity.

The adoption of this new Mission Statement came at a crucial time for us. The previous November, the voters of Lucas County generously approved our Capital Levy, ensuring that we would be able to move forward with a number of renovations, re-modelings and outright re-imaginings. And this time, we would be doing it all in the most sustainable manner possible. It’s a decision that had been coming for some time; we had adopted a set of Green Construction guidelines in an effort to ensure that we would work with our contractors to find the most environmentally friendly ways to carry out its vision.

The Beginning

The first order of business with the Master Plan may not have been glamorous, but it was important: reconfiguring the existing parking lot so that it could accommodate more visitors and improve traffic flow. Even with this project, we sought to include green components. In addition to the incorporation of rain gardens into the design and the use of recycled concrete, the new ticket booths at the entrance to the parking lot are powered by a small, residential-sized wind turbine and three solar panels. The wind turbine is expected to generate 3,600 kilowatt hours per year for our ticket booths. When the ticket booths are not in use, energy generated by the turbine is back-fed into the Zoo’s internal power grid and used by the Zoo. In addition, we’ve installed three solar panels on the ticket booths. All told, these steps will reduce our carbon footprint by over 5,600 pounds annually.

As the plans to install this wind turbine were announced, we did begin hearing from some neighbors who were concerned that a wind turbine would be an unattractive addition to the community. Such concerns were quickly allayed when the turbine was unveiled. Standing over 60 feet, with blades spanning 12 feet, the turbine has little impact for our neighbors – what it does offer is a strong visual reminder to our visitors of the importance of using sustainable resources.

Geothermal Wells

In addition to the parking lot, the Master Plan involves a bold re-invention of our Aquarium, which was constructed under the auspices of the Work Progress Administration (WPA) and dedicated in 1939. The plan for this magnificent structure is not only to make key repairs, most notably on a boiler system dating back to the Truman administration, but also create a state-of-the-art facility that can engage future generations of Zoo visitors. Preserving the architectural integrity of this historic building is also essential.

An undertaking of this magnitude requires planning from the ground up, and that’s just where we began, with the installation of 32 300-foot geothermal wells all around the Aquarium. These wells are connected to heat pump system and a heat exchanger. The system draws air through ducts into the building.

Because the ground below us maintains a nearly steady temperature between 50° and 60°F, it can provide a starting point that uses less energy as it heats and cools. In the winter months, heat from the warmer ground is drawn up, and in summer heat from the building is pulled down and cooled in the ground.

The wells here, which are six inches in diameter, will be connected to three 20-ton water source pumps and two ultra-high efficiency hot water boilers. They will replace the two existing boilers, which were installed in 1950, and the existing 60-ton air conditioning chiller. Once the drilling was completed in mid-October, the system was connected to the Aquarium’s HVAC system, and the system began heating the Aquarium in November. Once the system was in place, the wells were completely hidden five inches underground. Zoo visitors don’t know the geothermal system is there, but they feel the results each time they enter the Aquarium.

Replacing the existing HVAC system with this new geothermal system will reduce the Zoo’s carbon footprint by over 400,000 pounds, or 38 percent annually. In addition, it is expected to reduce utility costs by nearly $25,000 each year when compared to the energy usage of the existing boilers.


Even with these cost savings, though, going green still met with some resistance among the people of northwest Ohio. Unfortunately, issues like climate change and energy independence are too often cast as political issues, and so they are often fraught with tension. We received some media attention from those who claimed that by stressing our use of green technologies, we were somehow advancing a political agenda. The attentions of a couple of talk radio hosts did not, however, translate into a flood of calls and e-mails (although a handful did come in). It seems that by and large, people understand the importance of reducing energy usage and recognize that as advocates for animals in the wild, their Toledo Zoo should maintain a commitment to preserving their natural habitats.

We continue to move forward on green construction in upcoming projects as well. Nature’s Neighborhood, the year-round children’s zoo facility scheduled to open in June 2009, features a number of green components that will help the Zoo reduce its energy consumption, including the use of Agriboard, which is made from compressed straw. It also offers double the insulation value over conventional construction. By using Agriboard panels in the construction of the play house, the Zoo is able to reduce lumber usage by 80 percent and air infiltration by 85 percent. The roof of the new goat barn will be covered in grass, making it literally a green addition to the facility.

With the establishment of a set of Green Guiding Values and a new Mission Statement, The Toledo Zoo has been able to bring its dedication to environmental sustainability to the forefront. Once the decision was made to commit to green practices, those principles became engrained in everything we do. Through the efforts of today, the Zoo is creating an atmosphere of environmental responsibility that will stay with us generations into the future – and a legacy that will make that future a little bit greener.

Eric Klinger is the Communications Coordinator at theToledo Zoo