JMZ Building Project

About the Junior Museum & Zoo
As a children’s science center and zoo, the  Palo Alto Junior Museum and 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 expiration 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 hands-on science classes to 19,000 students in 60 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 physical experiences offered here foster the develo0pent of abstract reasoning skills and improved learning.  Research also shows that engagement with zoo animals help children cultivate empathy for the natural world and to support conservation of wildlife and wild places.

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

Reasons for Rebuilding
As the Junior Museum and Zoo approaches it 80th year, the museum and zoo are constrained by a facility that no longer reflects the needs of its visitor, collection, 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 CAW Architects  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 g facility , and options for renovation or new construction.  During the master planning 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 was 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’ Theater; Stern Community Center; Art Center; Walter Hays Elementary School;


•             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 collection – held in the public trust- by the museum – to meet the standards of the American Alliance of Museums (AAM);


•             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 building and replace them with a new facility sized to adequately support the educational mission, outreach, and public programs for the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo.

Proposed Project
The proposed design for the JMZ includes constructing a new museum and education building, outdoor zoo with netted enclosure, parking lot, and perimeter site improvements on the site of the current facilities.  The proposed project scope has been developed in coordination with the Rinconada Park Long-Range Plan for the surrounding park, parking lot, and adjacent public facilities.

Parking Lot Redesign 
The existing parking lot adjacent to the JMZ and the existing parking lot between the Lucie Stern Community Center and Girl Scout House (GSH) will be reconfigured to improve traffic flow, maximize parking spaces, improve landscaping and lighting, and improve pedestrian and cyclist safety. The existing building-side GSH parking space will be maintained, and the exterior bird bath is anticipated to be relocated to near the Boy Scout space in Lucie Stern.
On the Middlefield Road sides of the parking lot, one of the vehicle entry points will be eliminated, and a bus stop will be added adjacent to the new JMZ.  The reconfigured parking lots will connect, allowing for efficient through flow of vehicular and pedestrian traffic to the Museum, Park and many surrounding facilities. 

Specific components of the redesigned parking lot include:
• Dedicated bike and pedestrian entrance at intersection of Kellogg and Middlefield Roads (separated from vehicular entrance), raised pedestrian pathways through the parking lot with direct connections to park pathways;
• Safe pedestrian pathway, defined by colored concrete, through parking lot leading to JMZ entry plaza;
• New, single vehicular entrance mid-block on Middlefield Road and new vehicular entrance onto Hopkins;
• Fire truck and bus access-only pathways through parking lot, with dedicated driveway onto Hopkins;
• Two-way circulation pathways through parking lot with dedicated drop-off and loading zone near JMZ entrance and park arrival plaza;
• Efficient storm water treatment system: pervious paving, shallow treatment area, and connection to storm drainage line in utility corridor;
• 50% shading requirement met by existing and new tree installations;
• New bicycle parking structures, including racks at the entrance to JMZ and the park; and,
• New long-term bicycle storage for staff.
As part of these parking lot renovations, the current demonstration garden on the west side of the GSH will be relocated to the park side of Walter Hays Elementary School.

Building and Outdoor Zoo
The project includes the demolition of the existing 9,000 sf, one and partial two-story museum building and construction of a new one-story 15,000 SF museum and educational building in the same location as the existing building. The new building has a gabled roof form with a lower ridge at 18’-0” tall and higher ridge at 27’-0” tall.  Amenities include educational classrooms and educational courtyard, a teacher area, general storage area, a small exhibit maintenance shop, indoor exhibits, and restroom facilities. 

The project would have a new open-air netting enclosure and supporting outdoor animal management area.   The new 17,415 sf, 36-foot tall netted enclosure would be accessible from the JMZ.  The netted enclosure, referred to as “Loose in the Zoo” would feature existing and new animal exhibits with landscaped features.  The netting would allow exhibition birds to fly about the enclosure.   An outdoor zoo animal management area east of the ‘loose in the zoo’ area would have a low ‘ceiling’ of netting.

The building footprint (building site coverage, measured at grade) of the existing museum is 8,500 sf; the building footprint (site coverage) of the proposed JMZ building is 15,000 SF. 

The proposed zoo will be an exterior open-air netted enclosure with an adjacent netted outdoor animal management area. The existing zoo and supporting animal management area is 13,800 sf - 8,800 sf of which sit within the park boundary.  An area of 13,920 sf of the exterior zoo would be located within the park boundary.  The net increase in outdoor zoo area is 3,615 sf overall with a 5,120 sf net increase within the park boundary.

The main JMZ entrance plaza would lead into the lobby and reception area of the JMZ.  New walkways near the new JMZ building would connect with parking lot improvements, Middlefield Road, and the Rinconada Park.

Phase 2 Zoo Building

The project also includes a proposed future (phase 2) two-story 3,600 SF building adjacent to the zoo with a ridge height of 25’-0”. This would have a classroom on the first floor and a butterfly/insect exhibit on the second floor. It is anticipated that the phase 2 project would be reviewed separately in the future as an Architectural Review application.  The massing and material of the future phase 2 building would be similar to the phase 1 building with a simple gabled roof form. The design for phase 2 is currently conceptual, as this scope is not funded at this time. The Phase 2 proposal would add 1,800 SF of footprint onto the site. After completion of phase 2, the building footprint net site coverage increase would be 8,300 SF. The proposed net building floor area increase would be 6,000 SF for the existing JMZ Building to proposed and a 9,600 SF increase including the phase 2 building.  Build-out of phase 2 may not be completed for up to ten years.

Last Updated: Aug 28, 2017