Jul 17

Congratulations, Andrew Marti: Replacement of the Jungle Roof

Most people realize that it takes a lot of humans behind the scenes to keep Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium in tip-top form, which is one of the reasons the Director’s Award was established – to honor zoo staff who completed projects in 2016 that had a notable positive impact on zoo operations and/or the guest experience; or showed significant costs savings or added tangible value to a process or park operation or animal husbandry in general.

The Omaha Zoo Foundation has been proud to highlight these individuals in our ongoing blog series, and today, we’re excited to feature a twofer. Last fall, Teresa Shepard, Lied Jungle supervisor, worked with Andrew Marti, the zoo’s facilities and operations manager to ensure the successful installation of a new roof for the jungle – just in time for its 25th anniversary.

We caught up with Andrew (below) and Teresa (here) to learn more about their important roles at the zoo and how they worked together to make our Lied Jungle even better than ever.

OZF: You grew up in Elkhorn and came to the zoo a lot as a kid. Was working here your dream job?

AM: Well, I was six years old when the Lied Jungle opened and I remembered going to the opening and being mesmerized by it, but I don’t think I really thought of it as a career path for me back then. My bachelor’s degree is in horticulture and I worked as a landscape designer before joining the zoo to work on the grounds crew in 2010. I had also worked in property management growing up, so when the facilities manager position opened up, I applied for and got that job. Then the role expanded because we’re growing like crazy. At the beginning of 2014, I became the contracting manager, handling our contracts for the custodial and maintenance work that goes on here. Then, in 2016, I went back to facilities manager, only this time I'm overseeing maintenance, building engineering, the fleet management department and custodial, as well as still doing contracting. When I first came to the zoo, I thought I would have the job in grounds keeping for a year or two. But as time progressed, it became so much more than a job. As you get more involved, it's easy to fall in love with the zoo. The thing that makes it the most special is the people that you work with and the passion that you see from every department.

OZF: What would surprise people most about your job?

AM: When people hear you work at the zoo, they really want you to say you’re a keeper and you work with the animals. Or they think it’s like being on vacation every day. I totally get why they would think that, but there are so many different departments and every one of them works so hard, every single day. Working on a project like the jungle roof replacement, I got to know the jungle staff because I was working with them 12 hours a day. You find out really quickly that every decision you make affects three different departments, so you've always got to be thinking ten steps ahead.

OZF: What were some of the challenges that you faced with the installation of the new roof?

AM: Well, the sheer magnitude of the project, for one. If you think about a building that’s 1.5 acres big and what it takes to pull the roof off of it and put a new one on, that’s huge. Now, think about the fact that we have hundreds of free-flight animals in the jungle, and an annual two million visitors coming through, and we didn’t have to close the building once. Our first priority was to protect our animals – making sure that nothing got in, was just as important (if not more so) as making sure nothing got out. We put down plastic over everything, had to make sure that any debris from the roof project didn't contaminate any animal enclosures. And of course, there were a lot of loud noises and unfamiliarity for the animals. I worked closely with Teresa to coordinate where the roofers were working, what animals they were working over, whether animals were on or off exhibit, etc. We would put up the scaffolding really early in the mornings and work late into the nights.

OZF: Now that the jungle roof is complete, and the Children’s Adventure Trails and Education Center are open, what are you working on?

AM: Getting back to the actual maintenance of the zoo. If you talk to me in an hour, things might change, but that's the current plan. We do a lot of exhibit work and we've been making improvements to our facilities department as a whole: our operations, improving our own facilities, equipment and roads. We're also working on replacing all these roofs that are 30-40 years old -- a little bit at a time. People are excited to donate money to a new project, but a 40 year old roof, not so much. Ever since I've been here, we've been in the midst of this vast expansion and capitol growth. Sometimes, we struggle a little to keep up, but at the end of the day, we always make it work. And every challenge presents new opportunities to step up and make the zoo even better.