The family of the late Dr. Alexander Ernst joins dignitaries in a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new zoo education wing. (Photos courtesy of Cape May County)

A celebratory ribbon-cutting event marked the grand opening of Cape May County’s new Zoo Education Wing at the Atlantic Cape Community College’s Cape May Campus.

In a touching tribute, the wing was named in honor of the late Dr. Alexander Ernst, a dedicated veterinarian at the zoo who passed away last December.

Dr. Ernst’s vision for an educational extension to the zoo’s services was realized with this wing, which he championed for 18 years.

Although he did not witness the completion of his dream, Dr. Ernst’s significant contributions to the educational center and its programs have had an indelible impact, according to a county news release.

The new facility is set to welcome over 900 young campers enrolled in this summer’s Zoo Camp, catering to children and teenagers ages 5 to 17.

The center is designed to expand and enhance its educational offerings with classes and interactive experiences. Additional features of the zoo’s educational initiative include the “Zoo to You” outreach, “Animal Encounters and Guided Tours,” a comprehensive docent program, and the “Littlest Explorers” series.

Commissioner Director Leonard Desiderio leads the opening ceremony.

The dedication ceremony Friday was attended by Dr. Ernst’s family, including his wife Kira, daughters Lydia and Natalie, and mother, Barbara Ernst. The Ernst daughters had the honor of cutting the ribbon, unveiling the wing that includes specialized animal holding rooms for small mammals, reptiles, and birds, alongside two classrooms, three offices, and a conference room.

Commissioner Director Leonard Desiderio and Commissioner Andrew Bulakowski, vice director and liaison to the Parks and Zoo, led the opening ceremony. Speakers included Dr. Barbara Gaba, president of Atlantic Cape Community College, Assemblyman Antwan McClellan, zoo veterinarian Dr. Hubert Paluch, and Kendra Verity, zoo education.

Dr. Kira Ernst expressed her heartfelt gratitude to the county and the college for commemorating her husband’s legacy and his unwavering dedication to the zoo and its educational mission.

Desiderio acknowledged the successful collaboration that brought the project to life, praising the partnership between Atlantic Cape and the county. He commended Dr. Gaba, her team, and the county administration for their dedication to providing a vital program that not only supports the zoo’s educational endeavors but also offers academic opportunities for those aspiring to careers in veterinary care.

Bulakowski emphasized the project’s significance and acknowledged the zoo staff and the Board of Commissioners. He expressed his gratification of the project’s completion and the dedication of the wing to Dr. Alex Ernst, whose legacy will continue to enrich Cape May County.