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National Aquarium touts new rescue center’s potential

The National Aquarium Thursday showed off its vision for the nonprofit’s new Animal Care and Rescue Center in Jonestown.

John Racanelli, National Aquarium CEO, explained plans for the new facility, at 901 E. Fayette St., during a news media event on Tuesday. Racanelli touted the new center as a way to expand the organization’s reach into city neighborhoods while providing a state-of-the-art and permanent home for a facility that handles between 1,000 and 1,500 animals at a given time.

The new space will not be a public facility, but through special tours and other events officials hope they can provide a better understanding of the work by its Animal Rescue team. The center will also provide about 10,000 more square feet of space than the current building and an open layout more conducive to the work done there.

The National Aquarium purchased the building for $4.25 million in late 2015. It previously was home to Chess Communications Group, which bought the property in 2000 from the city for $700,000.

The Animal Care and Rescue Center is scheduled to open in about 18 months. The overhaul of the building is expected to cost about $20 million. Racanelli said the nonprofit is in the early stages of fundraising to help pay for the animal care facility, but he added the aquarium has the resources to pay for most of the work.

The aquarium’s current Animal Care Center for animal care and quarantine, rescue and rehabilitation and exhibit fabrication is in a leased space in Fells Point, where it has been for the past 22 years. The building has limitations, primarily because it has been sectioned off as the facility has grown during the past two decades.

Joe Cronyn, president of the Jonestown Planning Council, said the new building benefits his more than 200-year-old neighborhood by putting a vacant building into a “welcoming use.”

“It’s an educational opportunity, and it’s a terrific use of a commercial space that has been vacant for a while,” Cronyn said.

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