New zoo hospital has lion's share of space
Animals » Clinic includes rooftop solar arrays, natural light and recycled building materials.
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The old operating room at the Hogle Zoo animal hospital was so cramped veterinarians sometimes had to crawl over and under bulky pieces of surgical equipment to get from one side of the operating table to the other.

Now they could turn cartwheels, if they wanted. And some just might.

Visitors packed the operating room at the newly dedicated L.S. Skaggs Animal Health Center after a Tuesday morning ribbon-cutting ceremony -- and there was still plenty of room to spare.

Same goes for the lab, the animal holding pens, office spaces and storage. Hogle's lead veterinarian, Nancy Carpenter, said the experience of walking through the spacious $3 million clinic "is wonderful."

Built in 1980, the old, cinder block-built health center housed a collection of modern veterinary instruments -- some of which were the envy of zoo vets everywhere. But the building's one-temperature-fits-all heating system was inadequate to accommodate Hogle's collection of hundreds of species from around the globe. The built-in holding pens were so poorly designed that many were being used for storage. And the cramped clinical and surgical spaces sometimes made caring for the zoo's larger species a back-straining endeavor.

The new clinic features more space, environmental controls, which can be set to a broad range of individual species, and animal pens that look more like the zoo's public habitats than holding cages. Zoo officials say they expect the building, which includes rooftop solar arrays, lots of natural light and recycled building materials and furnishings, will be certified at the highest level of environmental friendliness by the United States Green Building Council.

Carpenter said the new hospital has the space to accommodate the growth anticipated as the zoo adds new animals and exhibits as part of its master plan. That plan received a boost from Salt Lake County voters last November with the approval of a $33 million bond to be issued for improvements to the state's largest animal park, paving the way for a new exhibit featuring polar bears, seals and other Arctic wildlife.

About half the construction costs were covered by the ALSAM Foundation, a charitable organization sponsored by the clinic's namesake, drugstore magnate L.S. Skaggs.

Susie Balukoff, Skagg's daughter and president of Friends of Zoo Boise, the fundraising arm of Idaho's largest zoo, said the Boise animal park often looks to Hogle as a source of ideas for the future. She said Hogle's emphasis on animal care has been particularly inspirational.

"They are doing what we wish to do in the future," Balukoff said.

Zoo director Craig Dinsmore commended the Skaggs family and the public-private partnership that boosts Hogle, saying the relationship is enabling Hogle "to provide the very best health care to the animals that are entrusted to us."

mlaplante@sltrib.com