The Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo (JMZ), an educational fixture located for over 80 years in Palo Alto’s 19-acre Rinconada Park, is slated to undergo a much needed renovation to its outdated facilities. The JMZ’s mission is to engage a child’s curiosity in science and nature through exploration, creativity, discovery and play. The newly designed facility will retain this focus as well as the JMZ’s celebrated child-like, whimsical atmosphere.
Founded in 1931 by Josephine O’Hara in the basement of a local elementary school, the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo was the first children’s museum west of the Mississippi. Over 150,000 people visit the zoo annually, including 19,000 children from Palo Alto and Mountain View schools. Well known and loved among residents of Palo Alto and throughout the Silicon Valley for over eight decades, the JMZ has educated generations of children about science through interactive exhibits, hands-on learning and its popular science outreach programs at numerous local schools.
Currently, the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo is home to 50 species of animals and over 200 individual specimens. Bobcats, raccoons, snakes, a plethora of insects, ferrets and bats are among the zoo’s menagerie. Through its interactive educational model, JMZ brings science alive and allows children to better understand the natural world and the relationships between humans and animals. The renovation of the facility will create new classrooms, more exhibits, new animal enclosures as well as a ‘loose in the zoo’ area where children can roam freely with animals, and a canopy walk above the zoo.
$25 million has been raised for the JMZ’s renovation and revitalization project. $10 million was obtained via private donations, resulting in a $15 million matching grant from the Peery Foundation. Mayor Patrick Burt says he believes the zoo renovation is the “largest nonprofit project in Palo Alto since the 1930s.” The retrofit of the main building, constructed in 1941, will finally enable the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo to become accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums; the current state of the building has kept the JMZ from becoming approved by the association for years.
The final design still is still undergoing revisions prior to final approval by the Architectural Review Board. Initial feedback from the Board was the design didn’t meet the criteria for the ‘imaginative and child-like qualities’ that embody this Palo Alto institution and as such, designers are going back to the drawing board. As these changes are being addressed, plans are in place for the zoo to close late this year with groundbreaking to commence in 2018. The JMZ plans to reopen to the public in 2020 and discussions are ongoing about whether the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo, which has always been free to the public, will institute a new entrance fee to help fund upkeep, educational programs and overall operations.