No. 10: Zoo makes goal, breaks ground on Cat Canyon project
Editor's note: This is the first in a series of stories featuring The Telegram's top 10 news stories of 2012.
By ANGIE HAFLICH
After reaching its fundraising goal and overcoming higher than anticipated bids, construction of Friends of Lee Richardson Zoo's Cat Canyon project got under way in August of this year.
The groundbreaking for the project is No. 10 on The Telegram's list of top 10 news stories for 2012.
Efforts to raise the projected $1 million needed to complete the project started in 2007, and the funding goal was met in November 2011.
FOLRZ then opened bids for the construction of Cat Canyon in January, which garnered bids between $1.4 million and $1.6 million. That forced Lee Richardson Zoo officials and WDM Architects to revisit the design plans of the exhibit to find ways to cut costs while maintaining architectural integrity.
At the time, then-FOLRZ Director Mary Palmer said the containment aspect had to remain the same for safety reasons. Kathy Sexson, director of Lee Richardson Zoo, said other elements also needed to remain in order to prevent future maintenance issues and costs.
After working with contractors and architects to modify the plans, the project was re-bid about the beginning of July, with bids coming in between $896,000 and $1.25 million. Harbin Construction of Salina won the bid.
Groundbreaking took place Aug. 2, when Sexson and Palmer thanked supporters of the project funded largely by private donors and members of the community, along with some grant funding.
"It is truly a community-supported zoo in big ways and little ways," Palmer said at the time. "I always love talking about the kids who have garage sales and lemonade stands, who donated to Cat Canyon, to show big granting organizations how dedicated we are."
During the groundbreaking, Palmer also recognized the FOLRZ board for its commitment to the zoo, and said she had heard people from all over the country compliment the zoo. Sexson also recognized the city's involvement in and support of the project, as well as Skip Mancini, former drama instructor at Garden City Community College, who produced two theatrical shows, "Cat Tails," and "Animal Crackers," as fundraisers for the project. Mancini placed the productions in her top 10 list, because she said the entire cast and crew were working together for a cause.
"... Kathy gave us a tour and we walked over to those cages over there and we looked inside and out, we looked through the bars, through the fencing, through the concrete, and in there we saw these really beautiful animals — wonderful, wonderful animals, that really deserved better and now they're going to get it and we are very proud of that," Mancini said during the groundbreaking ceremony.
Cat Canyon is located just south of the Wild Asia Exhibit, and will include separate yards for the cats of America — jaguar, puma (also known as mountain lion or cougar) and bobcat — and will be a more natural habitat. There also will be a building from which zoo visitors can observe the cats.
Brian Nelson, current director of FOLRZ, said construction is ahead of schedule.
"It's progressing very well. We're looking at having the building completed in the spring and then we'll do landscaping, which will take up to an additional two months," he said, adding that an exact time frame is difficult to predict. but that the ribbon-cutting will take place in either the summer of fall of 2013.
He said completing the project will make way for the next FOLRZ project, a new primate exhibit that will house the red ruffed lemur and spider monkeys.
"We're not bringing in any new animals. This is a home for animals we already have, of course, Once Cat Canyon wraps up, we'll start talking about raising money for (that) project," Nelson said. "It will be an exciting year to have Cat Canyon opening in 2013 — it will be a really, really nice exhibit. A lot of people will enjoy it for many years to come."