Renovations at the International Crane Foundation are on budget and on schedule to finish by spring of next year, ICF leaders say.
“We’re really pleased,” ICF Chief Operating Officer Kim Smith said Friday. While the extreme temperatures last month slowed work in some areas, workers have gotten ahead in other areas or made up for it during stretches of good weather.
The $10.4 million renovation project started in early November and covers about three-quarters of the wildlife center’s site north of Baraboo, Smith said. The other quarter was renovated in 2009.
“It’s going to be great for the visitors,” she said, noting the “beautiful prairie,” proximity to the birds and guided tours that ICF already offers. “All of that will continue and be even better than before, but now with a lot more naturalistic exhibits and beautiful places for people to sit and rest.”
Construction crews from Vogel Bros. Building Co. of Madison laid a foundation for the new visitor center, which will be more spacious than the existing one and include a theater, interpretive exhibits, a gift shop and an indoor area from which to view sandhill cranes in their outdoor enclosure.
Ten of the 15 crane species on site will receive renovated exhibits, each featuring a pond to give the birds easy access to water. Four species already have renovated exhibits.
“A lot of our exhibits were a little bit dated, you know, and they’re original, and so we’ll be able to update all of that infrastructure but also give great new spaces for the birds,” Smith said. “So the birds will have more room, more natural landscaping.”
Visitors will be able to view more birds without fencing behind them or netting above them disrupting the scene, said Visitor Program Manager Cully Shelton. Some exhibits were already fence-free, but more will be enclosed by a see-through mesh after the renovation.
Smith said ICF clips the birds’ feathers — it’s painless and the feathers grow back — to prevent them from flying off, which is why they don’t need netting above them.
CLR Design, an architecture firm based in Philadelphia, focuses largely on zoo design. The International Crane Foundation chose the firm partly for that experience and its ability to maintain prairies. CLR knows what birds’ needs are, Shelton said.
Smith noted the architects and contractors have communicated well with ICF staff, making for a smooth planning process. Foundation leaders meet weekly with CLR and Vogel to make sure everything is on track, Smith said. Soon Shelton and his team will start working on plans for the educational and interpretive aspects of the project, such as how the trails will look.
Time-lapse videos posted to the ICF website show progress made at the site.
Meanwhile, the foundation’s conservation efforts continue across the world. Shelton said field staff are working in China, Africa, India, Cambodia, Vietnam and Texas.
“The grass never grows under our feet,” Smith said.
One of the main objectives of the project is to better inform visitors of that conservation work. Smith noted a “Cranes and Culture” area will show the connection between the birds and their native lands as well as their impact and interaction with human cultures throughout the world.
Though the wildlife center is closed throughout the renovation, Smith said some events and tours, including “An Evening with the Construction Cranes” in June, will offer opportunities for people to visit and see the construction as it progresses.
Leaders are planning to participate in festivals and other outreach events this year to keep their presence in the community, Shelton said. The ICF operated a temporary pop-up shop in Cornerstone Gallery downtown from October to December, which was “very successful,” he added. Its merchandise is now only available online.
Smith noted her appreciation for the local community and the support it gives to the ICF.
“We really believe in being a part of our community, but it’s also a way for us to talk about our global work,” she said.