WEST ORANGE, NJ — The two improvement projects totaling $8.6 million to modernize the public entrance and construct a new train maintenance building at Essex County Turtle Back Zoo has officially been completed, according to Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, Jr.
DiVincenzo, who announced the completion earlier this week in an unveiling ceremony at the zoo, the projects represent the county’s ongoing commitment to revitalize Turtle Back and ensure it remains an attractive destination for children and families.
"We are always looking for way to improve the experience our visitors have at Turtle Back,” he said. “With the number of people increasing steadily each year, we wanted to reduce the wait time by creating additional admission points and enhance pedestrian safety by eliminating the lines that reached into the parking lot. Our new entrance accomplishes that as well as providing a dynamic statement about Turtle Back."
He added that the miniature train ride has been a favorite for generations and that the new maintenance building “will improve operations and make it easier for us to maintain the ride."
"I came to Turtle Back Zoo when I was a child and now I have the opportunity to bring my children and see how excited they become," Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin. “They look forward to seeing something new every time they come. It is exciting to see how government can positive impact the quality of life for residents.”
Others in attendance at the ceremony were Freeholder Carlos Pomares, who said was impressed with how successful the zoo has become and Freeholder Patricia Sebold, who applauded DiVincenzo for making the zoo a destination attraction. Zoological Society of New Jersey Executive Director Adam Kerins added that this was “yet another milestone to celebrate at Turtle Back Zoo.”
"Whenever someone goes on vacation or visits someplace, one of the things they remember the most is the entrance," Turtle Back Zoo Director Michael Kerr. “Opening this new entrance is exciting because it really puts Turtle Back Zoo on the map. These improvements help us provide a positive experience for our visitors.”
About Expanded Entrance:
The popularity of Turtle Back Zoo has attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors annually and helped establish new annual attendance records in 14 of the last 15 years. Attendance reached an all-time high of 907,522 in 2017. The four admission points at the main entrance were no longer able to accommodate the record number of visitors and resulted in lines of patrons extending into the parking lot.
The update of the entrance maintained the two iconic castle-like towers, however the admission booths and roofline above the booths were removed. Five new stand-alone booths - which increases the number of admission lines to 13 - were erected in a semi-circle in front of the towers. To the left of the entranceway, new offices to provide expanded accommodations for group sales and group check-in was constructed.
The brick patio in front of the towers, where visitors typically line up while waiting to enter Turtle Back, was enlarged and extended into the parking area. The increased space enhances pedestrian safety because, instead of the lines extending into the parking area, there is now sufficient room for patrons to gather on the patio. As a result of the enlarged entrance patio, motorists will make a slight right turn when entering the surface parking area in front of the zoo.
A digital message board to promote events, animal education programs and other activities was installed near the entrance. The area is being extensively landscaped, there are benches for seating, and the patio is accented with brick pavers.
Comito Associates from Newark was awarded a $295,000 contract to design the new entrance. The John O'Hara Company, Inc. from East Orange was awarded a publicly bid contract for $5,324,000 to perform the construction work. The Essex County Department of Public Works monitored the project to answer questions and ensure delays were avoided. The improvements were funded through the Essex County Capital Budget and with a grant from the NJ Green Acres program. Work started in September 2018 and was completed in seven months.
About the Modernized Train Maintenance Building:
When plans were created to build a third parking deck at the complex, it became necessary to relocate a section of the path of the miniature train ride and construct a new train maintenance building. The new building provides a more efficient environment to work on the train engines and cars when they need to be repaired or require routine maintenance. A below-ground mechanics well allows employees to work underneath the train with the engine being lifted or removed and transported to another site. This feature will reduce the amount of time it takes to repair an engine and keep the trains running on schedule.
The exterior of the train maintenance building was designed to resemble the streetscape of an old western town. The mural features pictures of a sheriff's office, feed store, stable and doctor's office. One of the buildings is named as the Errington Tool building in honor of the Ralph Errington Charitable Foundation which contributed a major donation to fund the new train building. Passengers will continue to board the train at its current station.
Comito Associates from Newark received a professional services contract for $498,725 to design the train upgrades (It also includes the design of the new parking deck currently under construction). APS Construction from Paterson was awarded a publicly bid contract for $2,590,000 to build the train facility. The Essex County Department of Public Works monitored the project to ensure delays were avoided. The upgrades were funding with the donation from the Errington Foundation and grants from the Zoological Society of New Jersey and the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund. Work started in October 2018 and was completed in six months.
The zoo is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. For more information, visit www.essexcountynj.org/turtlebackzoo or call 973-731-5800.
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