Charles Paddock Zoo on the right track

The city-owned Charles Paddock Zoo in Atascadero has been granted its accreditation with the national Association of Zoos and Aquariums, setting in motion a long-sought upgrade and ambitious expansion.

“It’s one thing to do a nice bright coat of paint, but it got to the point of asking ‘Are the structures the best they can be?’ ” zoo director Alan Baker said. “So we’ve been going building by building and (the association) wanted to see our progress on that.”

A front entrance — complete with a larger gift shop, new ticket booth, food service area and restrooms — is taking shape now with completion expected this summer.

After that, a revamp to the marmoset and lemur exhibit is planned, as well as moving the flamingos near the front of the zoo.

The aging facility, established in 1955, is one of the smallest accredited zoos in the nation. Recognized since 1991, it’s now accredited through 2014.

Its standing within the association is essential to the local zoo because of the large network of resources it offers, Baker has said, such as its new tiger that recently came on board.

Moving forward with planned maintenance projects and enhancing its relationship with the Central Coast Zoo Society was key, Baker said. Finished fixes so far include new roofs, repaving, new public fencing and “a 60-item list that we knocked out,” he added.

Looking ahead, the zoo wants to raise several million dollars with the society to undertake fundraising efforts one exhibit at a time, Baker said.

The long-term plan calls for five new multi-species exhibits that, when complete, will bring new animals to the zoo.

They will include plants and animals that normally live together in the wild and create more of a habitat to showcase regions of the world, such as West Africa.

The first phase — to raise $5 million to $7 million — would pay for a new Indo-Burma exhibit featuring a tiger, red pandas and a reptile house for kimono dragons.

The accreditation process culminated this month with an exhaustive inspection of everything from the zoo’s budget to the animals’ dietary plan.

Last year, the accreditation board tabled the renewal so officials had more time to meet the association’s recommendations. It kept its accreditation through that period.