MANHATTAN, Kan. (WIBW) -- After years of planning and raising funds, the Sunset Zoo cut the ribbon Sunday on its new entryway and its new Nature Exploration Center, a 15,500 square foot education facility.
"We see about 45,000 people a year through our education programs and we’ve literally outgrown every facility we have in the building. We have converted old exhibits into education space in order to try to meet the growing demand and it just came to a point where we could not do all of the programming we wanted to do and so that was the genesis of the idea for this building and the need for this facility," said Sunset Zoo Director Scott Shoemaker.
"We have four dedicated classrooms in this building and the idea is that our education programs will be what we call nature-based science programs. The idea is, we’re going to try to get youth out into nature- get kids back outside, get them exploring nature, and then hopefully have them make that connection with the animals they inhabit the planet with," he added.
"A lot of our animals cannot be exhibited outside, they’ve got to be exhibited inside and with this facility here, we can bring our animals in and show them to the kids and students and have a real good exhibit," said Manhattan Mayor Loren Pepperd.
"We’ve always had to take our education programs mostly on the road to other facilities because we lacked a facility that really allowed people to come together," added Manhattan City Manager Ron Fehr.
The project was funded primarily through a sales tax initiative that was passed by Manhattan citizens in 2009. City officials say the need for the center was identified in the late 1990s when they designed a master plan for the zoo.
The zoo also received another $500,000 in private donations to enhance the technology inside the center.
Several organizations and individuals provided funding: the Sunset Zoological Park & Wildlife Conservation Trust, the Friends of Sunset Zoo, the McCullough family, the Kemper, Commerce Bank Shares and Caroline Peine Charitable Foundations, the Little Apple Veterinary Clinic and the Lindquist Family.
The new Nature Exploration Center will house an interactive distance learning lab, expanded education offerings, a year-round gift shop and ticket booth, and provide a unique venue for private events, including weddings, family reunions and corporate gatherings.
"One of the exciting things we added was the distance learning center which will allow us to basically televise our zoo education programs to schools all over the state of Kansas so kids can talk to us and we can talk to them in real time. They can ask us questions about the animals they’re seeing and then we can follow up with answers," Shoemaker, the director, said.
"It’s going to raise our game. It’s going to take Sunset Zoo to a whole new level. In the kind of programming we can offer and the kind of zoo that we are going to become," he added.