A rendering of the expanded National Aviary with the Helen G. Schmidt FliteZone Theater on the left. (Photo / courtesy of the National Aviary)

Less than a year after the completion of the National Aviary’s Penguin Point exhibit, the bird zoo located in Allegheny Commons will begin construction on a new indoor bird show theater, classroom and café at the beginning of March.

The Helen G. Schmidt FliteZone Theater will give visitors access to year-round bird shows in time for next winter. Construction of the theater, classroom and café should be complete by early September, project manager Erin Estelle said.

Because the theater will feature multimedia enhancements, the Aviary will be able to show documentaries and put on trainer talks in addition to its current program lineup. For example, during a bird show they could show video or images of the bird’s natural habitat on a large screen behind the bird.

“It will give people an idea of what these birds do in the wild,” Estelle said. “We can do it indoors, year-round, with enhancements.”

Some of the birds that will fly in the theater include parrots; macaws; Eurasian eagle owls (the largest owl species); and the southern ground hornbill, which is a flightless bird.

“We’ll try and give people a look at the bird world as a whole,” Estelle said.

The inside of the Aviary’s new FliteZone Theater (Photo courtesy the National Aviary).

In addition to indoor bird shows, the theater will have the Sky Deck, where trainers can showcase birds that fly too fast for the indoors (such as the Marshall eagle) or birds like the black kite that fly in large groups.

“That’s going to be another opportunity for visitors to see how amazing these birds are,” Estelle said.

The Learning Center classroom will provide space for large groups of students to attend supplemental educational programs. Programs include teaching students what it’s like to be a zoo keeper, or teaching them about penguins, among others.

Estelle said they try to keep their programming interesting to get students engaged, rather than making them feel like they’re in a classroom.

The Aviary will convert the space currently being used as a classroom into a café with free wireless internet. Estelle said having food service onsite will give visitors the opportunity to spend more time at the Aviary.

Because the café entrance will be right off of Arch Street, Estelle said it would give local residents another neighborhood spot to hang out and “just get out of the house.”

Major construction will start in the beginning of March, but the Aviary has already made a few internal adjustments, like putting new tile on the old classroom floor and upgrading their fire safety systems.

During construction, Estelle said some equipment might sit in Allegheny Commons Park, but that the impact on park users would be minimal. All of the Aviary’s current exhibits, including the new Grasslands exhibit opening on March 20, will remain open throughout the construction process.

“We’ll really be able to get our conservation message to our visitors,” she said. “We’re very excited and we hope everyone comes to visit.”