July 16, 2014 at 12:33 AM
WEST ORANGE, NJ - In 10 short months, a $7.5 million Education Building has been constructed at Turtle Back Zoo, and Gov. Chris Christie was on hand to celebrate. The 12,000-square-foot facility, located near Treetop Adventure and facing Northfield Avenue, will provide classroom space and an additional entrance to the Zoo.
Zoo campers, docents, politicians, families, and the press filled a conference area in the lower portion of the building as everyone waited for Gov. Christie's arrival.
Zoo Director Brint Spencer, who received an enthusiastic welcome from his staff, told assembled guests and notables that the Zoo had doubled their number of Docents and was looking forward to seeing the Education Center "educate thousands." Millburn resident Marc Berson, Chairman of the Fidelco Group, will underwrite the educational programming with a 10-year grant. Freeholder President Blonnie Watson and West Orange district Freeholder Len Luciano also lauded the project.
Sheriff Armando Fontoura praised the security at Turtle Back Zoo saying, "This is the busiest location in the state of New Jersey. There is a zero percent crime rate: no vehicle break-ins or thefts. No purses stolen."
His mood turned somber as he mentioned the death of Brendan Tevlin of Livingston on June 25 at Walker Road and Northfield Avenue, a few blocks away from the zoo. "This young man's death was not a random act," said Fontoura. "We are making good progress on the case. ...You don't have to look over your shoulder...this is the safest neighborhood in New Jersey."
Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo said, "This facility will assist us greatly in furthering our mission of promoting conservation and awareness about animals and the environment, as well as providing an improved experience for our visitors. It also will serve as a second entrance to the zoo, providing those arriving by bus a safer and more efficient entry into our facility.”
DiVincenzo thanked Mayor Rob Parisi and the township of West Orange, and proudly reported that last year the Zoo saw 621,000 visitors and posted a $5.3 million profit. The Governor arrived at 11:00 am and was enthusiastically introduced by DiVincenzo.
"This is another great resource that Essex County is making available to its residents and families. New Jersey needs more places like this,” the Governor said.
“When I was growing up, Turtle Back Zoo was a great place to learn and have a good time. Joe DiVincenzo is emphasizing assets like this because of the positive impact they have on our communities,” he noted. Christie, who was born in Newark and raised in Livingston, said, "I'm happy to be back in the place I call home."
Funding for the Education Center was paid for with grants from the Zoological Society of New Jersey and the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund, a loan from the Essex County Improvement Authority's Pooled Government Loan Program, funds from the Essex County Capital Budget and money raised from Turtle Back Zoo’s 50th Anniversary Gala held last year.