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Center for Conservation Leadership

Brookfield Zoo - Brookfield, IL

adaptive reuse, historic building, Chicago, green building, building renovations

Brookfield Zoo’s former Reptile House dates back to 1934 when the zoo opened. It underwent an extensive rehab and reopened in 2013 as the Center for Conservation Leadership, the zoo’s hub for conservation training and outreach. After the renovation, although the building may have looked the same from the outside, its open, airy interior was unrecognizable. Alligators, cobras, and other cold-blooded denizens were moved elsewhere to make way for classrooms and office space.  


The 11,000-square-foot, LEED Gold-certified Center marries a historic building with state-of-the-art technology. It still accommodates a few zoo animals too, in a temporary holding area, for educational purposes.

Notable Nugget

In the early days of the former Reptile House, city slickers could take the West Town streetcar through the Chicago suburbs out to Brookfield Zoo.

adaptive reuse, historic building, Chicago, green building, building renovations, Brookfield Zoo

Green Upgrade Details

As part of the redesign, three of the Center’s skylights were upgraded to maximize energy efficiency and natural light in the high-ceilinged building. Automatic daylight sensors and occupancy sensors have cut down on electricity use, and insulation added to the attic and exterior masonry shields the structure from temperature extremes.


One of the “coolest” innovative energy-saving features of the Center is the ice storage tank installed behind the building. To save on summer cooling costs, ice is generated during less expensive, off-peak (nighttime) hours, and stored in the tank for use the next day in the air-conditioning system when outdoor temperatures are warmer.


Salvaged and sustainable materials are found throughout the Center. Cabinets are constructed from recycled sorghum straw and wheatboard; the conference table is bamboo; floor tiles are a blend of recycled cork and rubber; and carpeting is low-VOC squares made of recycled (and recyclable) material.


Outside, pollinators buzz in the native gardens surrounding the building. The gardens continue next door, in the Hamill Family Nature Plaza where the zoo’s Baboon Island once stood. There visitors can sun themselves on recycled plastic benches, surrounded by butterflies flitting among thousands of perennials and a “living wall.”

Major Players

  • Environmental Systems Design

  • InSite Consulting Architects

  • TKA

  • Paschen Construction

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