LEED gold for KidZooU

An exhibit of budgies at KidZooU helps kids see the connection between recycling cans and bottles and water conservation in the Australian outback. ( DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer )

The geothermal wells for heating and cooling, the daylighting, the rain water used to flush the public toilets, the  vegetated roofs to reduce water runoff into storm drains and more have added up to a LEED gold certification for the Philadelphia Zoo's newest exhibit, KidZooU.

The $33.3 million children's exhibit, which opened last April, was designed in part to teach kids -- and their parents -- that saving energy can help save wildlife.

In one exhibit, with a fake polar bear looking through the window, kids can turn off household electrical devices, showing that saving energy can help stall climate change.

The message was echoed in the building's design and construction.

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a building ratings program of the U.S. Green Building Council, aimed at encouraging high-performance green buildings.  The buildings are rated on a point system; the highest they can achieve is platinum status.

KidZooU got points for building reuse -- part of the exhibit is in a rennovated version of the old elephant building. Building materials were recycled and salvaged.

“As part of our ongoing transformation, the Zoo continues to take its role as a conservation leader very seriously,” said Nina Bisbee, the Zoo’s Vice President of Planning, in a zoo press release. “This recognition marks an important milestone for us. As we continue to improve our Zoo with our mission top of mind, visitors will continue to see projects utilizing energy efficient, eco-friendly design from the earliest stages of planning, to construction, to operation.”

KidZooU’s sustainable design was also recognized by the Temple-Villanova Sustainable Storm Water Initiative as one of the best new storm water control measure projects in the region in 2013.