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The RainForest at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo is more than 28 years old. Crews have been working for several months to replace the dome that is an iconic feature for the building and the space the orangutans call home.

A new dome will use state-of-the-art technology to improve lighting, energy efficiency and animal habitats in The RainForest when work is complete this fall.

On August 18, a new dome was lifted onto the building roof by the largest crane in Ohio. Here’s a bit more about the project.

domeblog

Why replace the dome? The RainForest building is more than 28 years old, and the roof has been leaking for a while. A facilities assessment in 2018 indicated that a new roof should be a priority to improve the condition of the building.

Is the whole roof being replaced? Not for now. The iconic dome is the only work being done currently. The flat part of the roof as well as several skylights are not under construction as part of this project. The RainForest as a whole is being evaluated as part of early design and planning work for a new primate habitat to be built in coming years. Until then, the new structure will greatly help the building upkeep for now.

Will the rest of the building be renovated? At some point in the future, yes, but not as part of this project scope.

How much does this cost? This $3.5 million project was fully funded by the Metroparks. However, that full funding was made possible by Cleveland Zoological Society donors fully funding the Daniel Maltz Rhino Reserve, which opened at the Zoo on June 9. As the nonprofit partner, the Zoo Society works to raise money for the Zoo in many ways, including capital improvement projects.

Once the Zoo Society secured the full $2.5 million for the rhino yard from private donors and foundations, the Metroparks was able to move $1.5 million that they were projecting to spend on a rhino yard to accelerate the RainForest dome project as a priority for 2020. During a year of great financial distress, this collaboration between the nonprofit Zoo Society and the Metroparks is a great example of how private donations can help the Zoo in many ways.

Where are the animals? Most of the RainForest animals were moved to the Steffee Center of Zoological Medicine during the construction. The orangutan troop is still in the building, as are other smaller species on the first floor. The orangutan holding is world-class, and the animals are being provided with daily care and enrichment despite the loss of access to the areas guests can see.

When will the building reopen? If construction goes as planned, the RainForest may be open to guests sometime in November.

What is the roofing material? The dome caging being lifted today is steel and aluminum. Later this week, Vector Foiltec, a Germany-based company, will be installing ETFE panels in between each polygon outline seen on the caging. ETFE (Ethylene tetrafluoroethylene) is a sand-based plastic material that is pliable; it feels a bit like a beach ball. Three layers will be installed in each shape and then inflated to provide full roofing coverage. Cleveland Metroparks Zoo is among only a handful of zoos in the United States that is using ETFE, it is more common in bigger zoos in Europe.

Why ETFE?

  • More sustainable and cost efficient than full steel or traditional roofing. ETFE itself is 100% recycled material.

  • UV transparent, letting in full light and fresh air for animals and plants

  • Sound permeable, meaning it’s a comfortable volume in the space for animals and guest

  • Durable, weather resistant and ventable – so fresh air and temperature can be controlled

  • We anticipate using ETFE on our upcoming primate habitat, so this is a “test” for how it works for animals, plants and staff upkeep

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