BREC hires Duplantis Design Group for $17.3K to study Fairgrounds site for new zoo

(Editor’s Note: This story has been revised from an earlier version to correct the dollar amount of professional services contracts that do not require BREC Commission approval. Daily Report regrets the error.)

As BREC Superintendent Carolyn McKnight and her administration continue to explore BREC’s Airline Highway Park as a potential site for a new BREC Baton Rouge Zoo, it has hired engineering firm Duplantis Design Group to do a preliminary feasibility study on the location.

BREC originally hired DDG to do a preliminary feasibility analysis of the floodplain and earthwork at Airline Highway Park, better known as the Baton Rouge Fairgrounds, for a cost “not to exceed $10,000.” It has since amended the contract to include “site investigative services, conceptual plan assistance and wetlands delineation” for a total cost of $17,300.

Professional services contracts less than $50,000 do not need approval from the BREC Board of Commissioners.

BREC spokeswoman Cheryl Michelet says DDG’s contract is part of the ongoing process to quantify the best recommendation for a new site for the zoo.

“As we have said, we are working toward presenting a solid and sound recommendation to our commission and are consulting with a host of experts before moving forward with a preliminary plan for a sustainable location,” Michelet says.

BREC commissioners, who have been meeting in pairs with McKnight over the past few months to discuss the zoo move, were unaware an engineering firm had been retained to explore the Fairgrounds location, according to several with whom Daily Report spoke today.

Board Chairman Lloyd Benson II says he was unaware of the contract and “would have liked to have known about it” before it was executed.

Since Daily Report first reported earlier this month that the site was under serious consideration by the administration, the already controversial issue of a zoo relocation has become even more heated. In part, that’s because part of the Fairgrounds flooded during the August 2016 flood, prompting McKnight to earlier say the site was off the table as a possible home for a new zoo.

More recently, however, commissioners have said the administration has revisited the site and believe a zoo could be developed on a part of the property that did not flood. The site is also attractive, they say, because BREC already owns the land.

While the administration is leaning toward the Fairgrounds site, McKnight will not make a formal recommendation to the commission at its monthly meeting Thursday afternoon. Benson says he has spoken to the superintendent and she will put off making her recommendation until March.

“She is close but not quite ready for this meeting,” Benson says. “Whatever she decides, I’m ready to do something one way or the other. We’ve been pressing her and she knows we must have it by March.”

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