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red sided timber frame barn built with solar power and round aluminum aviaries

Henry Vilas Zoo Children’s Barn and Train Depot

Madison, WI

Historic, environmentally friendly Children’s Zoo barn, windmill and train depot expand impact of community resource

In the summer of 2010, NCI-Roberts Construction broke ground on a timber-frame barn in the Children’s Zoo within Madison, Wisconsin’s Henry Vilas Zoo, which welcomes nearly a million visitors each year and is one of just ten admission-free zoos in North America. During the construction process, the contractor designed and implemented several environmentally friendly elements, and expanded the adjacent Children’s Zoo train.

Wide-ranging, changing goals

The zoo selected NCI-Roberts in part because of their experience in timber-frame construction. The goal was to replace an aging metal building with an inviting structure that would provide quality habitat for farm animals including goats, sheep, pigs, and alpaca, with whom children could have an up-close, educational experience. It also needed to incorporate habitat for an adjacent birds of prey exhibit.

Zoo leadership wanted the facility to have minimal environmental impact, a goal that expanded throughout the project as opportunities were presented through various partnerships.

The site presented unique water and erosion related challenges, in part related to its location adjacent to Lake Wingra.

Historic, environmentally-friendly craftsmanship

The completed 3,575 square-foot barn mitigated site challenges and met the zoo’s goals. Features include:

The barn operates nearly completely “off the grid” year-round through solar panels and geothermal wells, and is insulated with an energy-efficient, soy-based material.

Timber frame barn construction
Round aviaries, cupolas and solar panels
Timber frame barn houses farm animals for children's petting zoo
Barn provides habitat for goats and other farm animals
Animal pens and display area for historic tools
First floor with exposed timber beams
Exposed timber beams and metal railing
Second floor loft

Next to the barn is a replica of a 1933 windmill that pumps water into a rain garden, and an integrated 1,000 gallon rain water collection system compatible with the high water table. Collected water is used to clean exhibits and water plants.

Later in the project, NCI-Roberts extended the Children’s Zoo train tracks and built a train depot and benches that matched the style of the barn and windmill, to tie the area together.

The project enabled the zoo to continue to grow as a community resource, and supported its focus on energy conservation and education.

Timber frame train depot
Timber beams and stone columns
Douglas fir timber frame structure
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