JMZ Building Project

Aerial view of design of new Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo 

Proposed Project

The proposed project for the JMZ includes a new museum and education building, new outdoor zoo with a netted enclosure, upgraded parking lot, and a series of improvements to the perimeter of the current site.  This design was developed in keeping with the Rinconada Park Long-Range Plan for the surrounding park, parking lot, and adjacent public facilities.

Aerial view of architecture plans for new Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo

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. The current demonstration garden on the west side of the GSH will be relocated to the park side of Walter Hays Elementary School.

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;
  • New long-term bicycle storage for staff; and,
  • A pedestrian promenade located in front of the JMZ that connects Middlefield Road and Rinconada Park with free science exhibits and experiences, called Science Play on the Promenade.

Building and Outdoor Zoo

The project includes the demolition of the existing 9,000 square foot (sf), one and a half story museum building, and construction of a new one-story 15,085 sf museum and education building in the same location as the existing building. The new building will have a gabled roof form with a lower ridge at 18 feet tall and higher ridge at 27 feet tall.  Amenities will include education classrooms and an education courtyard, a program staging area, a general storage area, a small exhibit maintenance shop, indoor exhibits, and restroom facilities.  The building footprint (building site coverage, measured at grade) of the existing museum is 8,500 sf; the building footprint of the proposed new JMZ building is 15,085 sf. 

The proposed new zoo will include an open-air netted enclosure and with a supporting outdoor animal management area.   The new 17,278 sf, 36-foot tall netted enclosure will be accessible from the museum building.  The netted enclosure, referred to as Loose in the Zoo will feature existing and new animal exhibits, as well as enhanced landscaping features.  The netting will allow exhibition birds to fly about the enclosure.   An outdoor zoo animal management area east of Loose in the Zoo will have a low ceiling of netting.

The existing zoo and supporting animal management area is 13,800 sf, 8,800 sf of which sits within the park boundary.  An area of 13,920 sf of the new exterior zoo will be located within the park boundary.  The net increase in outdoor zoo space will be 3,615 sf overall, with a net increase of 5,120 sf net within the park boundary.

An outdoor classroom and multi-purpose space of 1,611 sf will be adjacent to the promenade and the zoo. 

The main JMZ entrance plaza will lead into the lobby and reception area of the building.  New walkways will provide safe pedestrian connections with the museum building, the parking lot, Middlefield Road, and Rinconada Park.   

Design plans of entrance of new Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo

Architecture plans for new zoo at the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo

Phase 2 Zoo Building

The project also includes a proposed two-story 3,600 sf building adjacent to the zoo with a ridge height of 25 feet. This will have a classroom on the first floor and an insectarium exhibit on the second floor. It is anticipated that the Phase Two project will be reviewed separately in the near future as an Architectural Review application.  The massing and material of the Phase Two building will be similar to the main building with a simple gabled roof form. The design for Phase Two is currently conceptual, as fundraising for this portion of the project is not yet complete.

Together, Phase One and Phase Two will result in a net increase of 9,633 sf of indoor floor area and 4,415 sf of outdoor zoo area compared to the existing JMZ facility.  The overall lot coverage of the JMZ facility will increase by 12,748 sf.

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 science and the natural world.   Our mission is to engage a child’s curiosity for science and nature through hands-on activities and interactions with live animals. At the JMZ, we encourage exploration, thereby building a foundation for understanding and a lifelong interest in 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 interest in science and empathy for the natural world and to 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. Through these programs, 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 development of abstract reasoning skills and improve learning.  Research also shows that engagement with zoo animals helps children develop empathy for the natural world and a willingness to support conservation of wildlife and wild places.

The JMZ’s 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 JMZ approaches its 84th year, it finds itself constrained by a facility that no longer reflects the needs of its visitors, collections, or 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 with 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 facility, and options for renovation and new construction. 

 During the master planning process the following objectives were developed:

 Visitor Experience

  • Tailor spaces for experiences to specific audience segments, including preschoolers and children with special needs;
  • Develop safe and effective way 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; and,
  • Improve access from the JMZ to Rinconada Park amenities: Playground, Children’s Library, Children’s Theater, Stern Community Center, Art Center, and Walter Hays Elementary School.

 Living and Non-living Collections

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


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

    Due to the limitations of the existing facility and infrastructure, the facility master planning process recommended complete demolition and replacement with a new facility that more adequately supports the educational mission and public program of the JMZ.  

    If you would like to support/donate to the Junior Museum & Zoo initiative, visit the Friends of the JMZ page