Project Management Institute

Project management at the Woodland Park Zoo

the Asian Elephant Forest


The history of elephants at Woodland’ Park Zoo dates back to the early 1920s when the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, a Seattle daily newspaper, initiated a public campaign to raise $3100 to purchase Wide Awake—an Asian cow brought from India. A barn and small exercise yard were constructed to house this small but very popular addition to the zoo. About ten years later, Wide Awake’s barn was expanded to accommodate Tusko, a huge Asian bull billed by the Barnes Circus as “the biggest elephant on earth. ” The barn alone would have never confined Tusko. He was constantly chained within its walls to prevent the reoccurrence of the demise of the walls of Jericho.

The good and bad news was that Tusko lived less than a year under lock and key before dying of a stroke almost as massive as his 14,000 pounds. He left behind a limited, utilitarian exhibit that would eventually hold four elephants and three hippos in a cramped, outdated space originally intended for just two elephants.

Cultural Artifacts

In order to create an exhibit ambience as authentic as possible, various cultural artifacts (both donated and purchased) from northern Thailand were included in the Asian Elephant Forest:

  1. Earthenware water containers with coconut shell ladles-donated by Mayor Vorakron Tantranont of Chiangmai, Thailand.
  2. Thai spirit house-donated by local Seattle resident.
  3. Authentic bark elephant saddle pads-donated by Woodland Park Zoological Society.
  4. Jungle baskets-donated by Woodland Park Zoological Society.
  5. Elephant bells-donated by Woodland Park Zoological Society.
  6. Elephant harnesses-donated by Woodland Park Zoological Society.

Thai Airways donated transportation and accommodations for zoo staff to acquire the above listed artifacts. In addition, Chai and Sri, two of Woodland Park Zoo’s four elephants, were donated by Thai Airways and the government of Thailand.

The Zoo is grateful to all of these benefactors of the Asian Elephant Forest as well as to the many supporters of the Woodland Park Zoo itself.

Site plan for Asian Elephant Forest

Site plan for Asian Elephant Forest

The housing crunch was eased somewhat when Woodland Park Zoo’s award-winning African Savanna opened in 1980. The hippos moved out of the aging, run-down, cold, drafty and cramped elephant barn leaving behind Watoto, Bamboo, Chai and Sri who, over a period of time, more than filled the void left by Wide Awake’s death in 1967. David Hancocks, zoo director at the time, kindly suggested that Woodland Park Zoo should send its elephants elsewhere rather than force them to inhabit such a terrible facility. The public, which had come to love the four portly pachyderms, yelled its protest, but failed to back its cries with financial support. Partially because of his inability to muster community support to fund a new elephant exhibit, Hancocks resigned in favor of David Towne, former superintendent of Seattle Parks & Recreation who possessed a keen sense of political savvy and connections to the business community that soon bore fruit.

Perhaps driven by the new spirit of optimism at the zoo, Post-Intelligencer publisher Virgil Fassio paid a visit to Seattle Mayor Charles Royer. Drawing on the Post Intelligencer’s historical role in support of the zoo’s elephants, Fassio offerd to donate the funding to replace the roof on the leaking elephant barn. What started out to be a simple roof replacement with a budget of $60,000 soon became a project of pachyderm proportion.

Royer, seizing the opportunity to chase a dream, told Fassio he would accept the money on behalf of the zoo — not for a new roof, but to pay for design of a new exhibit-and only if Fassio would also agree to chair a committee to raise enough money to fund the project. Fassio, fully aware of the elephant-sized task that lay ahead, countered with his acceptance on the condition that a heavyweight co-chair would assist in the campaign. Within days, Rainier Bank (now Security Pacific Bank) Chairman Robert Truex joined Fassio, and the Save Our Elephants campaign was underway.

Sub-committees were formed; team captains were selected; a public relations firm was consulted; and the design firm of Jones & Jones was hired to develop a concept for the new facility, The sense was that approximately $2 million would cover the costs of the project. Following a fact-finding trip to Thailand, however, Grant Jones, principal designer, presented the concept of an entirely new exhibit set in a simulated Asian Tropical Forest with elaborate barn and service structures, logging camp demonstration area, plus a large and natural tropical forest to best display the zoo’s four elephants. The price tag attached to this exciting and far more ambitious idea had grown beyond $6 million. With obvious trepidation, it was carefully presented to the co-chairs of the Save Our Elephants campaign where it was received with enthusiasm and optimism.

Functions of the Project Manager


Keeper of the vision: purpose, intent, basis, theme, concept Information processor and editor for:

zoo constituents elephant keepers, bird keepers, maintenance/horticulture staff, animal management, animal health, education, visitors services, Zoo Society, Save Our Elephants Committee, Zoo Bond Oversight Committee, local neighborhood communities
government agencies Department of Parks& Recreation (surveyors, shops maintenance,
Parks engineer, Parks architect), Department of Construction&
Land Use inspectors, Seattle Engineering Department, Seattle Fire
Department, Seattle City Light, Seattle Water Department,
Washington Natural Gas, METRO, Board of Public Works,
Design Commission
design consultants contractors: architects, engineers, testing inspectors prime, subcontractors, suppliers


example: project specifications required gunite work bid to include:

  1. subcontractor’s affidavit certifying minimum of 10 years business
  2. detailed description of zoo exhibit gunite work experience
  3. photographic references of previous gunite work experience
  4. sample gunite work if requested
  5. installation crew resumes of experience to assure quality performance


Design review: to maintain project vision to project completion while monitoring programmatic and design evolution during five and one-half years of the project’s development

  1. facilities programming
  2. schematic design
  3. design development
  4. contract documents
  5. bidding
  6. construction
  7. project closeout

Design standards:

    Zoo standards (examples)

1.Restroom fixtures are less security-proof and vandal proof because zoo visitors are more responsible towards public facilities

2.9 different types of barriers, fences and gates, viewing rails, kick rails, people barriers, elephant barriers, bird enclosure, perimeter fencing

3.signage and graphics

    Dept. of Parks& Recreation standards (examples)

1.EMCS (Energy Management Control System) monitoring system

2.door hardware

3.mechanical equipment

4.painting and staining

    City of Seattle standards (examples)

  1. catch basins, manhole covers, curbs according to Seattle Dept. of Engineering


Soil: compaction report
Concrete: mix design evaluation
Paint: application testing
Mechanical: testing of various systems including radiant heating, irrigation lines
Gunite: samples required


    Elephant pool: filtration system, 60,000 gallon capacity. Performance standard is swimming pool quality by removal of paddock substrate silt, bacterial growth, elephant feces, soil, hay/grass materials.


HVAC system: 10 air changes/hour for removal of odor.
Open door access for elephants from barn to outside. Radiant heat warms elephants and not interior space.
Hot Wire: New Zealand Hot Wire cattle fence system to contain elephants in paddock.
Soil Specs: 18” at top, 18” below with 1’ minus rock material.
Porosity drainage and percolation performance.
Reduce coarse soil to allow natural elimination by elephants after ingestion.
Floor: Aircraft carrier flight deck surfacing material cushions elephant weight.
Doors: Hydraulic doors for elephant entry/exit.


    Elephant Move:                Scheduled as early as possible prior to exhibit opening to accommodate keeper and animal adjustment.


    Phased Construction: Five project phases:

1. Phase I: Site Preparation

2. Phase II: Fencing

3. Phase III: Elephant Barn& Site Utilities

4. Phase IV: Demonstration Area, Paddocks, Pools

5. Phase V: Landscaping

Purpose of phasing was to initiate project without waiting for completion of total construction documents.


1.Work started sooner.

2.Review/approval procedures were reduced to smaller increments that were easier to correct/modify/expedite.

3.Site preparation began before completion of final design work.

4.Smaller construction firms were encouraged to participate due to smaller bid requirements and smaller bond/insurance requirements.

5.Women and minority firms had greater flexibility in attaining participation requirements.

    In-house Planting Three-part process:




Advantages relative to standard practices

1.Greater quality control over selection of materials and monitoring of material availability.

2.Elimination of middleman surcharging and accompanying increase of available funds for material purchasing.

3.Better installation control over planting schedule and manpower assignments by using in-house workforce familiar and experienced with site conditions and project requirements.

Human Resources

    Zoo Development Unit:

On-site, in-house, on-call, hands-on, one-on-one, door-to-door

    Project managers with varied skills:

Team incorporating project managers with different backgrounds, experiences, training and education planning, architecture, landscape design, urban design, building construction for working together by sharing varied perspectives of related project disciplines.

    Project managers new to City processes learning curve while under fire:

Advantage: Expediting project requirements as project managers may have learned elsewhere (outside the City) rather than according to orthodox City procedures.

Disadvantage: Reinventing the wheel or getting the wrist slapped for doing something the unorthodox way.

    Complex project team with specialists not used to team playing:

Advantage: Working with experts who know particular disciplines well. Disadvantage: Working with experts who do not normally interact with experts in other disciplines in order to formulate a decision or consensus.

    “Weak matrix”:

1.Project team does not have operational hierarchy of specialists working under or primarilv for project managers.

2.Project managers’ must-solicit for project team members’ participation and time that are considered as secondary or less important functions of the project team members’ organizational roles and purposes.

3.Project team members are inclined to address answers rather than questions.

Unsure of the prospects for Woodland Park Zoo’s first-ever major fundraising campaign, Fassio and Truex called for a design contract that could accommodate phasing of development based on the success of securing financial support. That contract included pre-negotitated, set fees for completion of various elements of the concept. In this way, designers would only complete work for those elements which were financially feasible.

Fassio and Truex also realized that the fund-raising campaign would need a significant boost if it were to succeed. Conferring with local politicians and civic leaders, they were able to secure a promise of public support generating a unique public/private partnership to benefit the zoo.

The community, galvanized by the cooperative efforts of its public figures, rallied to the cause. Thousands of donations poured in, from the pennies raised by school children to the hundred- thousand dollar contributions of major corporations and foundations. Over a two-year period, a total of $2.7 million was raised to match public money for the $6 million project.

Puget Sound residents didn’t stop there. In November, 1985, King County voters overwhelmingly approved a $31.5 million bond issue to continue the zoo’s capital improvements beyond the new elephant exhibit. A commitment by the Woodland Park Zoological Society to raise $10 million privately to match the bond money meant that the dream of a world-class zoo would be realized.

Design for the entire elephant exhibit was soon completed. However, because of the size and complexity of this new facility, a phased construction approach was still followed. This enabled the zoo to show progress to its donors, take advantage of favorable bid climates, and to separate more standard construction elements from the exhibit features.


Following passage of the zoo bond issue in November, 1985, a planning and development office was established at the zoo to work under the immediate supervision of the director. Prior to this time, all planning and project management support of zoo capital improvements had been provided by a centralized development division within the Seattle Department of Parks & Recreation. This decision had very positive results for planning and construction of the new elephant exhibit as well as overall implementation of the zoo’s capital development program.

Benefits that the Zoo’s Project Team provided include:

  • Significant travel time saved.
  • Strong identity with the zoo.
  • 100% commitment to the zoo’s capital development.
  • Increased sharing among team members of information and advice.
  • More time spent on construction site attending to details.
  • Lessons learned are applied to the next zoo project.
  • Close association with keepers (future “homeowners”).
  • Close awareness of zoo design philosophy.
  • Identification of key sources of information.
  • Greater accessibility to all participants in planning process.
  • Increased awareness by zoo staff of development, design and construction process.
  • Heightened awareness of critical issues affecting animal exhibition.
  • Increased feeling of camaraderie and teamwork.

Several project managers were hired to implement the various improvements. With varied backgrounds and skills, they promoted the overall strength and growth of the team. Degrees include architecture, landscape architecture, building construction and environmental design.

The fact that the new project managers were new to city government had both positive and negative sides. On the one hand, they started with no governmental biases and brought broad and varied experience from the commercial sector. On the other hand, they needed to learn how to function effectively on public projects while under fire to quickly launch an ambitious $41.5 million zoo capital improvement program.

Exterior of the new Elephant Barn with Asian architecture detail

Exterior of the new Elephant Barn with Asian architecture detail.

Finally, to ensure quality workmanship, a full-time construction observer was hired. He would provide direct on-site inspection and coordination of special testing requirements and inspection efforts of various. Zoo and Park Department staff.


The Asian Elephant Forest would be the first major zoo reconstruction project in several years. Designers and zoo staff consulted in earnest to make sure the first new exhibit would set the stage for many years of innovative, naturalistic habitats to come.

Any zoo exhibit, like the Asian Elephant Forest, is ultimately a compromise of several points of view— sometimes supporting one another, sometimes in conflict. They include, among others:

  1. animal management and health,
  2. horticulture,
  3. education and interpretation,
  4. safety and security,
  5. facilities maintenance,
  6. design and engineering, and
  7. public works and utilities.

Simply stated, zoo animals need a large, rich environment as close to nature as possible. That opportunity must be weighed against space availability, location suitability, and access to utilities (water, electrical, sewer, telephone, gas, etc.) and other services and maintenance. At the same time, any potential exhibit must create an experience through a variety of means (landscaping, structures, interpretive graphics, etc.) that is rewarding to visitors both in a recreational and an educational sense while still being comfortable, safe and convenient. Finally, the entire project must be pitted against the limitations of an overall budget that continually tugs at every aspect along the way.

Interior of new Elephant Barn. Barriers are for both the keepers and elephants protection

Interior of new Elephant Barn. Barriers are for both the keepers and elephants protection.

Conflict is inherent to the design process. Conflict resolution must be skillfully applied, too. To address and resolve different points of view, a project team was assembled even before planning began. Team members were selected with careful forethought to ensure that all affected areas of the planning process would be represented, including all those listed above.

Using the typical design process, the project team and the project manager worked with the design consultants to develop everything from a concept plan to final construction documents. Within this structure, as issues of concern were identified, the project team had the first responsibility to resolve them. When agreements could not be reached within the team, those issues were directed to the attention of zoo management for resolution.

An example of an issue to be resolved was the basic heating system for the elephant barn.

Challenge of Operational Issues

From the standpoint of animal management staff, the elephants needed free access (i.e. open doors) between their barn and exercise yard even in cold weather. At the same time, their barn had to be warm enough to reheat chilled elephants returning from outdoors. From the standpoint of facilities maintenance, energy conservation and cost were critical factors to consider. Using the technical knowledge of the design consultants, the project team explored and evaluated a wide range of potential options including an air curtain (ultimately rejected because of technical unfeasibility, cost, and animal reaction to a jet of air) and automated doors (like a supermarket, but also rejected).

Elephants at the elephant gate inside the Thai Village

Elephants at the elephant gate inside the Thai Village.

Through this open process, the project team selected gas-fired radiant heat mounted in the ceiling. This system warms the elephants directly without heating the airspace in the barn. Thus the doors could remain open; the elephants would stay warm; and the energy costs would remain reasonable. This team approach to conflict resolution was replayed hundreds of time throughout the course of the project.

Conflict resolution wasn’t always as easy as selecting a heating system for the elephant barn. No matter what the issue, however, certain rules of conduct were agreed to and followed:

1. Respect the opinions of everyone on the team.

2. Give everyone a fair opportunity to express his or her points of view.

3. Base the final decision on the facts that are brought forth to bear on it.

4. Inform everyone of the final decision and the basis for it.

5. Accept the final decision to move forward and deal with new issues.

The overall approach to the Asian Elephant Forest was necessarily give and take. The designer, project manager and an elephant keeper traveled to Thailand for inspiration, to learn how elephants have become an integral part of Thai life and culture, to see them hauling and stacking timber in a Thai logging camp, and to see them in the wild. Meanwhile the zoo staff began to painstaking ly determine the desired physical requirements of the new facility.

Designers pushed for integration of Thai culture into the thematic presentation of the elephants-a technique later dubbed “cultural resonance.” The temple-like barn, itself, as well as other support structures, would reflect the steeply-pitched roof and heavy beams of traditional Thai architecture. Elephant barriers would resemble those forming the royal elephant stockade in Thailand. The logging camp would not only feature elephants at work, but a rich display of saddles, tack, harnesses and bells. The elephant clearing, a one-acre opening in a dense tropical forest, would be filled with 12,000 plants and one of the largest public collections of bamboo in the Pacific Northwest. Extensive interpretive signage would tell the story of wild elephants, their endangered status, their social structure, their physical adaptations, and their depiction in Thai culture through auditory, tactile and written messages.

Zoo staff discussed housing requirements: number and size of rooms and outdoor spaces, safety features, heating and cleaning facilities, floor design, upkeep and maintenance. Their primary concern was the health and wellbeing of the zoo’s four elephants. Others talked about installing the 12,000 new plants and protecting existing trees from construction equipment. Some discussed handicap accessibility, kick rails, visitor circulation and interpretive nodes. Each area was represented by highly-skilled specialists. Tying together this diverse group of individuals was the unenviable job of the project manager.

Lessons Learned

Budget control throughout project

Examples of unforeseen circumstances impacting budget (beyond normal contingency estimates):

1.soil conditions requiring removal of unsuitable materials that were not determined (even with prior soil testing in the general locale) and replacement with new fill materials.

2.gunite work at elephant pool requiring on-site field adjustments determined by elephant keepers’ concerns for the health and safety of the elephants based on the animals’ behavior and activities in the pool.

Project team organization

Challenge of selecting project team representatives from various zoo and parks divisions that would be:

1.effective team participants able to understand project roles, mission, relationships with other team members.

3.reliable team participants who were responsible for fulfilling assignments within prescribed time frames for the benefit of the project’s progress and development.

3.decisive team members who could respond to decision-making or consensus-building actions with the confidence of authority and expertise.

Owner-furnished materials

Hydraulic elephant doors: cost benefits of using existing doors (from old elephant house) at the new facility were negligible; scheduling of project close-out was impacted due to delaying door installation with weather and temperature requirements for relocating elephants.


Scheduling of selection, purchase and installation of landscape materials was determined separately from general construction processes in order to expedite landscaping work based on seasonal factors of planting as much as sequential construction factors.

Zoo planning and development at the zoo

Advantages: and immediate coordination with zoo staff. overseeing of on-site project management planning, design, construction, close-out.

3.singular attention and responsiveness to zoo projects.

Close-out phase

Stream-lining of close-out evolved gradually and necessarily in order to eliminate excessive and extraneous punch list processing.

To make matters even more overwhelming, there were a variety of bosses to keep informed. Because of the project’s high level of public visibility, in addition to coordinating the internal planning and design efforts, the project manager had to disseminate information to a wide variety of political officials and public interest groups: the Save Our Elephants Committee, Mayor’s Zoo Commission, Zoo Bond Oversight Committee, City and County budget staff, City of Seattle Mayor and Council, King County Executive and Council, the Seattle Park Board, Woodland Park Zoological Society, and private grant sources.

Various means were used to address these groups. Reports were presented quarterly to the Zoo Bond Oversight Committee. Periodic project updates were printed and distributed to the zoo’s 18,000 household members via ZooNews, the monthly newsletter. Numerous press releases and media interest led to stories in local newspapers as well as television and radio coverage. A speakers bureau was formed to make presentations to various community and business groups. Various tools were used to assist these efforts: scheduling software to illustrate timeflow, organizational charts, a scale model of the Asian Elephant Forest, a slide/tape presentation, overhead projections, slides to show construction progress. Finally, after the exhibit had opened, the story of the Asian Elephant Forest and its residents was included in a souvenir videotape for sale at the zoo gift shop.


The design and construction of any new zoo exhibit is a complicated project. Woodland Park Zoo’s Asian Elephant Forest was relatively easy— construction took place in an undeveloped part of the park along its eastern perimeter. Vehicles and equipment could be brought in with minimal disruption to zoo visitors.

Many subsequent projects will not be as simple, especially the Tropical Rain Forest—a combination of indoor and outdoor exhibits illustrating the rich diversity of the world’s jungles. The Tropical Rain Forest will be located “smack dab” in the middle of the zoo. In addition to all the concerns listed above regarding design and construction of the Asian Elephant Forest, this project will require the juggling of several more practical considerations: relocating animals from exhibits slated for renovation, demolition of old buildings, movement of construction vehicles, safety barriers to exclude zoo visitors, and more.

The ultimate responsibility comes down to the zoo project manager—a jack of all trades whose negotiating skills must be as strong as his technical knowledge, his fiscal responsibility, his foresight, and his ultimate love for the zoo and its animals.

Thomas M. Kubota has both a bachelor of arts degree and master of architecture degree from Yale University. He also studied at the University of Tokyo on a fellowship from the Japanese government. Employed by the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation, Tom is assigned to the Woodland Park Zoo Planning and Development Section as a project manager for the Zoo Capital Improvement Program.

Michael D. Katagiri received his PMP certification in 1989 and is the 1990 Chapter President for the PMI Puget Sound Chapter. He is a Project manager for the Woodland Park Zoo Planning and Development Section and is responsible for developing the Tropical Rain Forest and the Northern Trail exhibit projects budgeted at twelve million dollars. He is an University of Washington graduate with Architectural and Construction Management degrees and has experience in commercial real estate development and construction, engineering and computer consulting.

James A. Maxwell has been the Manager of Zoo Planning and Development since establishment of the section in 1986. He has served in a wide range of functions during twenty four years with the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation, including 8 years as a project manager prior to being selected to guide the zoo program. Jim is a graduate of Western Washington University in Park and Recreation Administration. He is a member of Pro]ect Management Institute, the National Park and Recreation Association, and is certified as an Administrator by Washington Parks and Recreation Association.

John K. Bierlein has a Master of Public Administration degree which be received from Seattle University and two Bachelor of Science degrees from the University of Washington; one in botany and the other in forest management specializing in Environmental Intepretation. John came to Woodland Park Zoo in April of 1985 and worked as the Education Programs Curator. John is presently on special assignment as Woodland Park Zoo’s Interpretive Specialist.

Hank Klein Ph. D., has worked at Woodland Park Zoo for 10 years as Public Information Specialist and now Assistant Coordinator for the Center for Wildlife Conservation. He earned his doctorate from the University of Washington in the animal behavior division of psychology for his field study of paternal care in savanna baboons. He has also studied chimpanzees in the wild with Dr. Jane Goodall.

Article authors from left to right, Hank Klein, Jim Maxwell, Mike Katagiri, Tom Kubota. Not pictured, John Bierlein

Article authors from left to right, Hank Klein, Jim Maxwell, Mike Katagiri, Tom Kubota. Not pictured, John Bierlein.

PM NETwork became aware of the sophisticated use of project management at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo through Lois Tines at Project Software Development Inc. Contact was made with the Puget Sound Chapter of PMI who directed us to Mike Katagiri. A visit to the Zoo in May 1989 led to a formal invitation to the Zoo to tell the above story.

Jim Maxwell was the initial project manager for the Asian Elephant Exhibit. Shortly thereafter he was selected as Program Manager for the overall Zoo Capital Improvement Program. He then designed the project management system for the Woodland Park Zoo including four project managers managing individual projects within the overall program. Jim assigned Tom Kubota as Project Manager to complete the Asian Elephant Exhibit. John Bierlein was Curator of Education and was the project team member who was primarily responsible for providing education, interpretive and graphic information. Mike Katagiri, because of his strong affiliation with the local chapter of PMI, contributed to this article by consulting the primary authors on the PMI audience. To round out the team, Jim Maxwell brought in Hank Klein, the zoo’s Public Information Specialist, to write the overall article with the assistance of the project managers. PMI is grateful to all members of this team for their unique contribution to project management literature.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

January 1990



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