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Zoo seeks to make security, exhibit upgrades

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In this file photo, visitors to the Spring River Zoo on July 4 view two bears the zoo temporarily housed for the Alameda Park Zoo in Alamogordo. One of the bears escaped the enclosure the following week. The zoo will seek approval from the Roswell City Council for cost estimates of design services for a new bear exhibit and three other projects. The council’s Finance Committee will hear the request on Thursday. (Juno Ogle Photo)

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The Spring River Zoo will request the Roswell City Council approve cost estimates totaling $720,000 for security and exhibit upgrades that include a new educational farm exhibit and a new home for its two black bears.

The cost estimates will first be heard by the city council’s Finance Committee, which will meet at 9 a.m. Thursday in the large conference room at City Hall, 425 N. Richardson Ave.

The public can participate through GoToMeeting by computer, tablet or smartphone at global.gotomeeting.com/join/822397005, or by phone by calling 669-224-3412 and using access code 822-397-005.

The four projects in the zoo’s request include bringing more than 3,600 feet of its perimeter fencing into compliance with U.S. Department of Agriculture requirements of having an 8-foot fence.

A USDA inspection at the end of November noted the fencing as being non-compliant. Because the zoo houses a mountain lion and bears, it is required to have an 8-foot premier fence, rather than a 6-foot fence, but a Nov. 29 inspection noted the fence is shorter than that and some areas are in poor repair. Other areas were not accessible due to high weeds and rubble, according to the inspection report.

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The fencing is required to both act as a secondary containment system for the animals and also to keep unauthorized people from entering the zoo, the report notes. The report says the fencing is to be corrected by April 30.

The zoo is requesting approval for $120,000 for fencing materials and installation. Another request for $140,000 will upgrade video surveillance on the zoo’s grounds.

The zoo is also seeking approval of cost estimates for design work for new farm and bear exhibits.

The Leprino Farmland Experience will also include a new entrance into the zoo and has an expected total budget of $4 million, according to the committee agenda’s written abstract.

It will be funded in part by $2 million in payments in lieu of taxes Leprino Foods agreed to pay the city for the sale of industrial revenue bonds. The council approved the sale of up to $60 million in Series 2021 B bonds in June for capital improvements at the company’s Roswell plant.

The city is also planning on using part of its $11 million allocation from the federal American Recovery Act to fund a new entryway for the zoo. The zoo began charging admission in March 2021, a few months after reopening from the pandemic closure. However, the current entry setup — a tent outside the main opening — does not allow for ticket sales at the gate as it does not offer electricity or security to keep cash.

The zoo’s request is for $400,000 — 10% of the expected total cost — to fund the design and construction drawings.

The second request is for $60,000 for the design and construction drawings for a new bear exhibit. The zoo has long been criticized by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals for its exhibit. The animal rights organization has said the outdated concrete exhibit is too small and creates concerns about the animals’ health and welfare.

In July, one of two bears the zoo was temporarily housing for the Alameda Park Zoo in Alamogordo escaped after pushing and clawing at a chain link fence at the rear of the enclosure. The bear was able to get on top of the enclosure but was captured before she got any further. The two bears have since been returned to the Alamogordo zoo, along with a mountain lion the Spring River Zoo was housing while the animals’ exhibits underwent repairs.

Along with the zoo’s request, the Finance Committee will also consider giving its recommendations for resolutions authorizing the disposal of surplus items and budget amendments for the fiscal 2022 budget.

The surplus items include office equipment, a drill press, sandblaster and police equipment. All are to be auctioned.

The budget adjustments include $959,418 in revenue and $2.4 million in expenses.

The committee will also hear a report on operations of the Roswell Convention Center. With the event center closed and many events canceled under the state’s COVID-19 health order in 2020, the city ended its management contract with Spectra for the convention center. As the city began looking last spring at reopening the center, it decided to keep the management in-house.

The convention center is to open to full operation this month, according to the agenda abstract. A report on the convention center in the agenda notes that all but one full-time staff position is filled.

There were seven events conducted at the center in December with a total attendance of 620 people. The events included city meetings, an organization luncheon, a corporate Christmas party and the city’s New Year’s Eve event. Gross revenue for 2021 was reported at $27,052.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.

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