When a 10-year-old Eric Hall visited the National Aquarium in Baltimore with his dad, he felt like he was on another planet.
“It felt like I was in space as I was watching these marine creatures interacting in their habitats. It was so mysterious,” he recalls. “It created an incredible fascination in me and a sense of wonder that never went away. Just like some kids want to be an athlete or a rock star, all I wanted to do was work with those animals.”
From that day on, he started keeping aquariums at home and volunteering at local aquariums and museums. It kickstarted his decades-long career of working to spark a similar sense of wonder in zoo and aquarium visitors with the facilities he’s helped design and support.
After graduating with a degree in biology and working as a heavy equipment operator in the US Air Force, Hall spent most of his career in aquatics, overseeing aquatic animal life support operations for the likes of the Georgia Aquarium, Aquarium of the Pacific, and the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center. In 2019, Hall took his passion and expertise to Zoo Atlanta, whose mission to save wildlife and their habitats aligns perfectly with his.
“Transitioning to zoos was a little different for me but I find that a lot of the same principles apply,” says Hall, Zoo Atlanta’s vice president of facilities and construction. “On the operations and maintenance teams, our role is indirect as far as the conservation mission goes, but we still play an active role in ensuring animal welfare, as well as providing natural habitats from a visual and environmental standpoint.”
Hall’s time in the Air Force helped him expand on his interests in mechanics and gave him the necessary skills in machinery, automation, and other industrial equipment. “My job today has been a really interesting mix of engineering and biology,” he says. “The jobs I’ve had allowed me to lean on my passion for animals and that mechanical experience.”
His Proudest Project
“Being a part of the design and construction of the Georgia Aquarium is one of the accomplishments I’m most proud of because of the amount of work so many great people put in,” says Eric Hall of the aquarium that opened its doors in 2005 after more than two years of planning and construction. “At the time it was the world’s largest aquarium, and it was unprecedented in terms of size and water volume. It was substantially over 8 million gallons of water all in one building, over 600,000 square feet, and it was going to have an unprecedented animal collection. Being the 13th employee hired onto that project was pretty incredible.”
Since he stepped into his current role, Hall’s focus has been on bringing state-of-the-art care to Zoo Atlanta’s animals with a new animal health center that will be about four times larger than the current one. The 16,000-square-foot building, which broke ground in April 2023, will include a computed tomography (CT) unit, a large surgical suite, a residence for visiting vets and researchers, laboratory space, and more.
“Currently, our facilities are good but they’re a little dated; medical equipment, much like other tech, evolves very rapidly, so this is a huge upgrade that we’re really excited about,” he says. “We’re putting in a lot of new features that we don’t currently have. For example, if we want to do CT scans on animals, we have to travel 80 miles to the University of Georgia and a lot of times we have to anesthetize the animals to transport them. Being able to do the scans on-site will be a huge advantage.”
That’s not the only exciting project Hall and Zoo Atlanta have in the works. Hall says the others are connected to one of the biggest challenges zoos and aquariums face: finding new ways to engage the public.
“More than before, people want up-close and intimate experiences with animals, and we have to figure out how to do that while promoting animal welfare, education, and staying true to our mission,” he says. “It’s not enough anymore for people to look through a viewing area across from the animals while reading about them. They want more immersive experiences.”
That’s why Hall and his team have aimed to transform the visitor experience by constantly fine-tuning habitat designs and bringing visitors closer to the animals in ways that are both safe and engaging. The team has recently renovated both of its retail spaces and is also working on future plans for improving the children’s zoo, red panda, and golden lion tamarin habitats.
As a leader, Hall prides himself on “hiring people smarter than he is,” and treating his team members like partners. He tries to create an environment where people are challenged but given creative control and freedom to make decisions, and even have the flexibility to fail. To strike that balance, Hall says you need to be a “secure leader and really care about the people you work with.”
“If you need control, you won’t do well with that style of leadership,” he explains. “For me, I keep my eyes on the bigger picture and I don’t get caught up with every little decision. There’s 100 ways to do something, but my focus is on communicating often and giving people the information they need to know to make good decisions.”
General Building Maintenance was founded in 1983 with the understanding that our company’s success would depend upon our ability to produce a consistently high-quality product day in, day out. We provide complete janitorial services and currently, we are servicing over 60 million square feet of facility and office space throughout the United States. We are proud of our work with Eric Hall and Zoo Atlanta and congratulate them on their recognition in American Builders Quarterly! Visit gbmweb.com to learn more.