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Two long-awaited projects totaling nearly $1 million that will sharply alter the Buffalo Zoo's eastern perimeter are about to move from drawing board to construction.

Ground will be broken after Labor Day for the Parkside Gate, a new entrance on Parkside Avenue, including a wildlife interpretive center and the relocated zoo gift shop, and for expansion of the cramped elephant yard next to the new gate.

Both are expected to be completed by next spring.

The architectural firm of Stieglitz, Stieglitz and Tries is putting the finishing touches on the Parkside Gate blueprint, which has been revised twice since the project was announced in early 1987, Minot H. Ortolani, zoo director, told the board Tuesday at its monthly meeting.

The facility to be built on Parkside between Amherst Street and Jewett Parkway will resemble the one unveiled then. The main structure will be a 1 1/2 -story building topped by an atrium and containing the wildlife center. A second building, containing a long-vacant shelter plus a new wing, will house the gift shop, which will be moved from its present site near the main gate.

Construction bids for the project, solicited in October 1988, were "extravagantly high," forcing the zoo to reconsider the scheme. A low bid of $500,000 was submitted, double the projected cost.

In discussions that followed with the Stieglitz firm, various alternatives, including one that would have "flip-flopped" the wildlife center and the gift shop, were discarded as impractical, Robert M. Greene, zoo president, said after Tuesday's board meeting.

"We finally decided to go back to the original plan. The new building will be the wildlife center and the shelter, and its addition will become the gift shop," he said.

The decision was made easier by $400,000 in restricted gifts from private donors to finance the project, Greene said. The wildlife interpretive center, which will "underscore the zoo's commitment to education and conservation," will be named the Margaret L. Wendt Museum, he said. The Wendt Foundation will fund the exhibits to be housed there.

Zoo leaders view the Parkside Gate as a long-needed entrance for bus riders, who now must walk the long distance from Parkside Avenue to the main gate on the Delaware Park loop road.

One remaining issue is how to enlarge the Parkside Gate shelter without taking space away from the planned elephant yard expansion, Ortolani and Greene told the directors. The architects are working on several possible configurations, they said.

Under plans announced in early 1988, the yard would be doubled to give the pachyderms several thousand square feet more trunk space outdoors, including a pool at one end. The iron bars enclosing the present facility will be replaced by a more natural barrier -- a moat and a landscaped bunker. The $450,000 outdoor expansion will funded by the New York State Natural Heritage Trust.

The project originally called for renovating the elephant house as well, but that phase has been put on hold until funding can be assembled, Greene said.

Eventually, the zoo aims to establish an Asian elephant breeding program in the expanded house and yard, which will require purchasing the zoo's first bull, Ortolani noted. The elephant herd now consists of four females.

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