The N.C. Zoo would get the go-ahead to rebuild one of its most popular attractions — the aviary — under a proposed state budget acquired by The News & Observer this week.
Deep in the document, where it briefly describes specific appropriations for projects within the state Department of Cultural and Natural Resources, it reads, “NC Zoological Park New Aviary Exhibit Building. Provides funding to construct a new Aviary Exhibit Building at the North Carolina Zoo. The total amount authorized for the project is $60 million.”
Of the total, the budget would authorize $3 million in fiscal 2023-24 and another $3 million in fiscal 2024-25.
Those amounts align with Gov. Roy Cooper’s budget proposal, crafted earlier this year, in which he asked for:
▪ $3 million to take down the old aviary building, which has been closed to visitors since 2022.
▪ $3 million to design a new aviary on a different site on the zoo grounds that would be subject to less erosion.
▪ $60 million total to bring the building to completion.
Moisture and mold problems
The R.J. Reynolds Forest Aviary opened in 1982, partially funded by the tobacco company. It was the first permanent indoor exhibit at the park, which sits outside of Asheboro.
The building was closed in December 1998 for 18 months of repair and renovation, which included replacing the heating, cooling and ventilation systems, as well as some of the floors.
But 22 years later, the building was in bad shape again.
In order for the aviary’s 100 or so tropical birds and more than 2,000 exotic plants to thrive, the building’s humidity had to be kept high, comparable to a rainforest. But the moisture was hard on the structure, causing mold to grow and metal and concrete to degrade.
In addition, the roof leaked despite repeated repairs, and the ground under the building was slowly washing away because of erosion on the site.
Eventually, engineers said the building was beyond repair and needed to be closed to protect the animals, guests and zoo staff. The aviary’s birds — 33 species — were relocated to other parts of the park or sent to other accredited zoos.