Zoo Atlanta goes green, earns gold LEED certification

Zoo Atlanta is in the conservation business, a point President and CEO Raymond B. King is proud to make.

Hence, he said, it was right to aim for LEED certification during construction of the new reptile and amphibian house. Conserving energy and protecting the environment fit the zoo’s mission.

King announced Thursday that the Scaly Slimy Spectacular building, which opened in April, was awarded gold LEED certification.

“We are excited,” King said. “It’s remarkable what you can do when you put your mind to it.”

LEED status (it stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) requires not only energy-efficient design, but low-impact construction practices that reduce waste and depend on local sources for building materials.

Earning LEED approval requires extensive documentation of the building and sourcing, in a procedure overseen by the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council.

In addition to securing a local source for carpet, cement and other materials, Zoo Atlanta was able to redirect 127 tons of construction waste into recycling programs, a savings equivalent to the weight of 17 adult male elephants. (That’s the sort of analogy that the zoo’s LEED consultant Allison Cunningham tells kids at the zoo, when she’s trying to explain green building practices.)

Interior air quality is also a critical criterion for LEED evaluation, and the zoo’s builders, the joint venture Winter Johnson Group, were able to find low-emitting paints, sealants and adhesives to meet and exceed LEED’s stringent standards, according to project manager Sarah McCracken.

The zoo is apparently becoming known for its commitment. On Thursday, the zoo announced the fourth million-dollar gift in its fundraising campaign, a grant from the Kendeda Fund to help pay for LEED design and planning in the renovations of the Cyclorama building.

The zoo’s $38 million campaign will pay for a thorough makeover of the Cyclorama building, plus the expansion of the African savanna exhibit and radical changes to the entrance plaza. The huge panoramic Civil War painting, “The Battle of Atlanta,” that resided in the Cyclorama building since 1921 is moving to a new structure in Buckhead on the campus of the Atlanta History Center, and the old Cyclorama building will become an events facility.

“Kendeda is a huge supporter of environmental causes in this community,” King said. “They’ve been a good supporter of the zoo, and this was a logical way for them to support this project.”

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