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Council members: Lower cost of Thompson Park zoo project

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Despite its escalating costs of $435,500, the Watertown City Council informally agreed on Monday night to go ahead and begin accepting bids for the planned open-air pavilion at the New York State Zoo at Thompson Park.

After an hour-long discussion, council members instructed City Engineer Kurt W. Hauk to bid the 50-foot-by-50-foot pavilion, telling him to find ways to cut costs on the project.

Mr. Hauk’s specifictions will request a base bid for the job but also include two separate alternate bids for stone veneer columns and stamped concrete that would look like a brick flooring.

If those prices come in high, the city would eliminate those features from the project. It would then have less-ornate-looking columns and a concrete slab floor, saving an estimated $72,680.

During the debate, Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham urged council members to proceed with the project to replace the little-used aviary.

“I just think we have to move on this,” Mr. Graham said.

It would cost $202,000 for the pavilion structure itself. Over the weekend, Mr. Hauk said the amount for the structure escalated from the $170,000 for a similar pavilion built in the J.B. Wise parking lot last year.

Although the city Public Works Department was going to demolish the aviary, the general contractor would complete that $32,000 portion of the work because of the timing of the job, Mr. Hauk said. Zoo officials hope to have the pavilion finished by the busy summer season.

Bids should go out later this month. Contracts could be awarded in February and the aviary’s demolition could begin in early spring, Mr. Hauk said.

Zoo Executive Director John T. Wright, who attended Monday night’s meeting, said afterward he’s satisfied with the City Council’s decision.

“I think we’ve been working with the council on a compromise,” he said.

The project would also include landscaping and an audio-visual system and a wall to accommodate that system. The open-air pavilion, which would be in the shape of a cross, would be used for events such as classes, presentations and private parties.

The project has gone through a series of major changes since the Thompson Park Conservancy, the group that runs the zoo, first approached the city in 2009 about tearing down the aviary. Last summer, council members scrapped an indoor educational facility because its projected cost had risen to more than $1 million.

When members of the Conservancy first brought up replacing the aviary, they asked for a basic pavilion that they thought would cost about $40,000. City Council members initially balked at demolishing the 30-year-old aviary, describing it as an iconic structure. Today, it is closed to the public, home only to a pair of turkeys.

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