Some Erie Insurance employees got out of the office on Wednesday to do some volunteer work at the Erie Zoo.

As the zoo lions lounged in the sunlight, volunteers from the Erie Insurance IT department were hard at work nearby, sprucing up buildings in the children's zoo area with a fresh coat of paint.  It was a day organized by Cassandra Zaborowski. "I was listening to the radio on the way to work and the zoo said we're looking for volunteers and so I reached out and coordinated and brought my small team here."

And according to Erie Zoo development director Scott Mitchell, the small team was making a big difference. "Erie Insurance - these folks - had an opportunity to volunteer and they picked volunteering at the zoo and so that also prompted us to talk to the good folks at Sherwin-Williams and so they donated all the paint and stain for this project as well, so this will save us 10s of thousands of dollars," Mitchell said.

Erie Insurance gives its employees 9.5 hours each year to do community service work. Cassandra said it felt great to get out of the office. "It's wonderful, I love the sunlight and you know working with some penguins and whatnot is great," she laughed.

The volunteer painting is not the only thing going on at the Erie Zoo.  Major construction work is continuing on the new North American river otter exhibit which will triple its size.  Work on the expanded and enhanced home for the otters should be completed by late June.

"Our otter exhibit renovation is coming to a conclusion soon," Mitchell said.  "We installed a new ADA walkway we have an African wild dog viewing panel coming up soon, a new red panda exhibit, all of that within this year plus several more things that are happening so there's a lot going on," he added.  Those improvements also include upgrades to the zoo train.

Also in the works to keep the Erie Zoo animals healthy, a brand new veterinary services building to care for them.  Mitchell said until now those services from treatment and surgery rooms to a quarantine area were spread out in spaces across the zoo property. Finalizing the site and designs for the new veterinary center should be completed over the next couple of months.

The zoo already has a 3-million-dollar state RAC-P grant to help fund the new building, and may receive more grant funding that will have to be matched.

To get accreditation back from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums- AZA, Mitchell said they also need to find an ongoing, sustainable source of funding for the zoo, and that's also a work in progress.

The Erie Zoo has an AZA coach helping them through the process.  He will be back in Erie for a mock inspection of the zoo to see how all the changes and improvements are progressing.