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ORLANDO-After 10 years of planning and depositing contributions, the 21-acre Central Florida Zoo plans a January start on the first $10.5 million phase of a planned $35 million renovation project at the suburban Sanford, FL site, 30 miles north of Downtown Orlando.

The zoo’s physical size will be increased to 40 acres to accommodate a new 8,900-sf Wayne M. Densch Environmental Education Complex; a 3,000-sf lab to replace a portable building currently housing an education classroom and staff offices; and a modern medical facility to replace the room where animals are medically checked when first brought to the zoo.

Other additions planned are an Asian-like swamp forest featuring Sumatran tigers and orangutans; an entry plaza with retail and a restaurant; Heart of the Zoo relaxation area for visitors; additional parking and improved roads leading to the zoo’s entrance.

Zoo planners estimate over the next 15 years, the number of animals will increase to at least 600 from 300 and the visitors’ count will grow to about 500,000 from 200,000 annually today.

The Central Florida Zoological Society has purchased a 6.85-acre tract near the zoo’s entrance for a buffer zone that will not be developed.

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