May 26, 1999
By EILEEN SMITH, Courier-Post Staff
The apes at the Philadelphia Zoo’s new Primate Reserve mightbe man’s closest relative in the animal kingdom, but they have nohead for figures.
Neither do many humans. That is why project managers evolved — professionals who keep the job on track, from the first stroke of the conceptual drawings to the last stroke of the paint brush.
“We do just about anything you can imagine regarding a largeproject,” said Harry Perks, principal of Perks Reutter Associates,the Cherry Hill firm overseeing the reserve. “Except we leave he buying of the animals to the zoo people.”
Perks Reutter began work on the 2.5-acre habitat in the strategic phase, almost immediately after the devastating Christmas Eve blaze in 1995 that killed 23 primates. Since then, the firm has re-estimatedt he cost of the reserve — now $24 million — three times. And when the budget grew too much, Perks Reutter pruned costs by cutting back landscaping.
“Most of our projects are a combination of public and private finance,” Perks said. “That makes things interesting.”
It is that expertise that most impressed Alexander “Pete” Hoskins, the zoo’s president.
“A job of this magnitude needs somebody making certain things go the way they’re supposed to,” he said. “Harry is especially skilled at meeting the requirements of both the state and the city.”
Traditionally, the zoo has managed its own projects, such as a $1 million renovation of the reptile house. But the primate reserve is such a huge undertaking, Hoskins was concerned there would be delays in construction without someone to monitor the building process.
“This project was done on time and on budget — which is amazing when you consider its complexity,” he said.
Although he maintains a low public profile, Perks has long been associated with some of the city’s most famous facades. The Medford resident is best known for serving as executive director of the Pennsylvania Convention Center throughout construction of the $523-million project. He is now steering renovations at the Academy of Music, the Free Library of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Water Works.
Perks was eager to take on the zoo project because it is on the cutting edge of animal exhibits worldwide. Improvements on the destroyed primate house include a fire prevention and evacuation system, in addition to an advanced heating and cooling system.
At the zoo, Perks Reutter developed a budget to execute the design for the sprawling habitat, an abandoned timber mill which suggests a rain forest reclaimed by the apes. Consultants worked on site to identify and correct problems that might cause cost overruns.
For example, the roof of the primate reserve is a complicated structure and took longer to complete than expected, noted Chris Perks, son of Harry and president of Perks Reutter. So the contractor decided to work extended hours to keep the project on track.
Some events even the most experienced project managers can’t anticipate.
“The penguins were next door to this project and it kind of interfered with their lives,” said Chris Perks. “So we had to move them.”