The Heart of Africa exhibit fulfills Columbus Zoo and Aquarium’s dream of creating an authentic savanna in central Ohio where hundreds of animals large and small occupy familiar habitats. The zoo built the exhibit on more than 100 acres of adjacent farmland that now provide a mix of education and entertainment.

A large quantity of rockwork, which required installation by specialty contractors, provides a barrier between the different sets of animals on the savanna. The general contractor engaged several specialty contractors in a competitive procurement process to complete the rockwork using design assist. That helped ensure quality and schedule, saving $400,000, project team members note. The exterior of a 125-year-old, one-room schoolhouse on the property was overhauled to resemble schools in Africa.

The contractor ensured authenticity through extensive use of mock-ups that went beyond the level of detail typical in the industry. The mock-up process included the design team, subcontractors and construction team but also non-construction members of the owner’s staff, such as zookeepers. Involving zookeepers to this level helped the design and construction teams better meet the unique needs of each animal and animal-specific safety requirements.

Close collaboration by the project team helped to protect the 10,000 animals based on their differing sensitivities to sound, dirt, dust and vibrations.

Columbus Zoo and Aquarium’s Heart of Africa Exhibit and Special Events Center

Powell, Ohio

Key Players
Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
Lead Design Firm Peckham Guyton Albers & Viets
Contractor Messer Construction Co.
Structural Engineer Jezerinac Geers & Associates
MEP Engineer Prater Engineering Associates Inc.
Civil Engineer EMH&T
Subcontractors George J. Igel & Co.; Smoot Construction Co.; The Nassal Co.