Elephant Lands

Portland, Oregon

New elephant exhibit exemplifies zoo’s commitment to animal welfare and sustainability

With the expansion of the Oregon Zoo’s former 1.5-acre exhibit to a full six acres, Elephant Lands sets a new benchmark for elephant health and well-being. The $57 million exhibit fosters elephant herd socialization and replicates the variety of the Asian elephants’ natural habitat with soft sandy surfaces, forests, hilly corridors, meadows, mud wallows, water features and an eco-friendly heating system to keep the herd warm year-round. The project includes a single-story animal holding building and a public viewing gallery, with keeper observation, support functions and the mechanical equipment room located on the building’s mezzanine level.


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  • The Challenge

    Elephant Lands is the most ambitious project ever constructed at the Oregon Zoo. With a 50-year legacy history of elephant care and groundbreaking research, the Oregon Zoo is nationally recognized and the zoo’s Asian elephants are beloved by the community. In 2008, the community passed a $125 million zoo bond measure to promote animal welfare and safety, increase access to conservation education, and upgrade zoo facilities including the new elephant habitat. At 34,000 square feet and reaching up to 43 feet tall, the exhibit boasts one of the largest indoor elephant facilities in the world. One of the Oregon Zoo’s aims is to be a model for sustainable conservation of natural resources. Metro (the Portland regional agency that governs and operates the zoo) issued a Request for Proposals for enhanced commissioning services to ensure the building energy systems operate as designed and intended, and we won the award for this sustainable, significant and highly visible project. 

  • Our Approach

    Our thorough understanding of a variety of mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems and our wealth of experience made us the ideal independent third-party commissioning provider for the innovative facility. We commissioned an array of equipment and systems including energy-efficient heat recovery HVAC units, water source heat pumps, solar thermal hot water system, and a 20 kW photovoltaic array system.

    One of the most interesting energy efficiency features we commissioned was a geothermal "Slinky" system. This innovative geothermal condenser water system directs heat created as a byproduct of cooling the polar bear swimming pools through a series of Slinky-like coiled pipes. Pumps circulate the condenser water through the system and the geothermal slinky field, which consists of 10 zones located throughout the Elephant Lands exhibit area at a nominal depth of five feet. The pipes deliver the heat to the indoor portion of the exhibit. We also drew upon our expertise in green building operations and training to provide the owner’s facilities staff with the right information to understand, maintain and optimally operate the commissioned equipment and systems.

  • The Outcome

    Our work in completing the LEED Enhanced Commissioning process helped Elephant Lands earn LEED Gold certification, exceeding expectations when all Oregon Zoo bond projects aim for LEED Silver at minimum. In addition to receiving LEED Gold, our Enhanced Commissioning work helped the zoo optimize energy use, inform their staff on correct operating procedures, and provide a comfortable and environmentally responsible facility for both elephants and humans.