JMZ Building Project

Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo Background 

As the Bay Area’s only children’s science center and zoo, the Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo (JMZ) is a place where children and families explore, wonder and make discoveries about the natural world. Our mission is to engage a child’s curiosity for science and nature and we do it by encouraging exploration to build a foundation for understanding and a lifelong respect for science and nature. 

For visiting children, especially toddlers and preschoolers, we provide multi-sensorial, kinesthetic and play-based exhibits, authentic artifacts, hands-on programs, and live animal encounters designed to connect children to early science concepts.   Our exhibit messaging is designed to cultivate empathy for the natural world and introduce conservation issues and solutions.  

For school-aged children, the museum offers annually nearly 2,000 in-depth and hands-on science classes to 14,260 students in local elementary schools, at the museum, and in local open space preserves where students gain concrete experience and practice with scientific methods and theory, and conservation practice.

The JMZ is a unique and highly valued resource for children.  Child development research shows that the physical experiences offered here foster the development of abstract reasoning skills and improve learning.  Research also shows that engagement with zoo animals helps children cultivate empathy for the natural world and to support conservation of wildlife and wild places.

The JMZ’s intimate and approachable scale and consistent staffing has helped us forge rich and long-term relationships with our community—relationships that have allowed us to broaden and deepen the impact of our work. 

As the Junior Museum and Zoo approaches its 80th year, the museum and zoo are constrained by a facility that no longer reflects the needs of its visitors, collections, and operations. Due to inadequate storage and support spaces, accreditation options for both the Museum and Zoo are unobtainable. While the Educators continue to deliver outstanding educational programs, they are severely limited by lack of office, preparation and storage spaces. In addition, there are many accessibility and safety concerns in the existing facility and the surrounding site.

The Friends of the Palo Alto Junior Museum engaged the architectural firm of Cody Anderson & Wasney Architects, Inc. to work with a broad array of stakeholders to complete a facilities master plan in 2011 and 2012 evaluating program and operational needs, inadequacies of the existing facility, and options for renovation or new construction.  During the master plan process, the following criteria was developed:

Visitor Experience 

  • Tailor spaces for experiences to specific audience segments, including early childhood audiences and children with special needs. 
  • Develop safe and effective ways to connect children with a diversity of  live animals.
  • Develop classrooms that improve student engagement and learning impact.
  • Improve access, safety, toilets and way finding.
  • Create opportunities for outdoor “play in nature” experiences.
  • Improve access from the JMZ to Rinconada Park amenities: playground; Children’s Library; Children’s Theatre; Stern Community Center; Art Center; Walter Hays Elementary.


  • Provide facilities for animal health and quarantine to meet the standards of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).
  • Improve the care and storage areas for the non-living collections--held in public trust by the Museum—to meet the standards of the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) standards.


  • Improve storage, access, and work areas to ensure staff safety, efficiency and effectiveness of operations.
  • Implement green building practices.

Due to the limitations of the existing facilities and infrastructure, the facility master plan culminated in a recommendation to demolish the existing museum and zoo buildings and replace with a new facility sized to adequately support the educational mission, outreach, and public programs for Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo.

Project Description and Scope

The proposed design for the Junior Museum & Zoo Project includes constructing a new museum and education building, outdoor zoo with netted enclosure, small zoo support building, and perimeter site improvements on the site of the current facilities. The proposed project scope has been developed in coordination with the Rinconada Master Plan for the surrounding park, parking lot and adjacent public facilities. 

To see an aerial view of the new Museum, click here.

Entrance Plaza: (appr. 8,500 sf)
An improved drop-off zone and paved entrance plaza leading up to main entrance. An existing large Pecan Tree will be protected and featured with a stump garden play area located under its canopy. Pathways connecting staff parking areas (with/in the larger parking lot) to the education wing entrances.

Museum and Education Building: (18,250 sf)
The first floor will include an entrance lobby, exhibit galleries, visitor amenities (restrooms, stroller parking, etc.), support spaces (wood shop and general storage), educational classroom, and collections storage. The existing Dawn Redwood Tree will be protected and enclosed within an educational courtyard  providing an additional outdoor classroom space. The small second floor area will provide overlooks into the exhibit galleries below and office areas for the JMZ staff. Additional outdoor educational and gathering spaces will be provided on second floor roof decks.

Loose-in-the-Zoo: (18,600 sf)
The animals will live within a lush landscape with exhibits for the existing animals and a number of new ones including meerkat and butterflies; a large protective net will cover the zoo allowing birds to fly about. A wall enclosure at the base of the loose-in-the zoo space will meet zoo enclosure requirements as well as serve as an educational exhibit for visitors entering the park on the outside of the zoo.

Zoo Support: (Building: 4,300 sf, Exterior Yard: 3,500 sf)
A low one story building housing zoo support spaces - program animal area, feeding rooms, animal care rooms, etc. Behind the zoo and zoo support building will be a fenced lay-down area for equipment, exterior animal cages, and zoo maintenance materials.

CAW Architects is currently refining the conceptual design for this new facility in preparation for the entitlement and planning review phase with the City of Palo Alto. This CEQA study will correspond with the planning review phase of this project.

Last Updated: May 22, 2017