If you’re planning a religious meeting in Springfield, Mo., you might want to consider using the new Wonders of Wildlife museum and aquarium as part of your event.

At least 23 groups have booked space for meetings, receptions and other events in the new facility, even though it’s still under construction. Nine groups are scheduled to meet in the museum in August, September and October – before the museum’s grand opening on Nov. 2, 2001.

That includes the Springfield Area Pachyderms, a group with an event scheduled for 400 people in the museum in August. "It’s huge," said Pachyderms president Denise Jensen. "It’s absolutely phenomenal. There’s not another place like this in the area."

"Everyone’s looking for something new and exciting," said Dennis Schmidt, sales manger at Wonders of Wildlife, the American National Fish and Wildlife Museum.

Wonders of Wildlife, the American National Fish and Wildlife Museum, uniquely brings the outdoors to the indoors. Space for groups is available before and after hours. It includes:

-- Up to 400 people can use the upper and lower lobbies, which have 5,280 square feet for receptions, dances and parties. The lower lobby has wood flooring, clerestory windows and a vaulted ceiling. A grand staircase leads the way to the mezzanine level.

-- Even larger groups can rent the entire facility. Of the 92,000 square feet available in the museum, 67,000 square feet is available for groups. The $52 million wildlife museum is a contemporary hybrid of a traditional wood pavilion and glass conservatory. It will feature 160 species of live animals including sharks, fish, otters, bobcats, reptiles, amphibians, insects, beavers and wild turkeys. Birds will flit about in a free-flight aviary. Hunting and fishing displays and interactive exhibits will encourage visitors to use all their senses to discover the great outdoors, learn about conservation and restoration of natural resources.

-- The Heroes of Conservation Library, featuring comfortable, overstuffed furniture and wood-lined walls. The 320-square-feet library can accommodate 25 to 45 people for intimate dinners, cocktail parties and board meetings.

-- The Out to Sea Gallery transports meetings to the open ocean through a 220,000-gallon saltwater aquarium filled with sharks and several varieties of tropical fish. The soothing blue light, vibrant colors and aquatic view make it a distinctive setting for up to 80 people. The 1,200-square-feet gallery has a Tropical Coast room nearby for buffets or extra space.

--The Community Pond offers floor-to-ceiling viewing for a below-the-surface look at the pond creating a captivating and entertaining backdrop. With a combined area of 850 square feet, the Community Pond is perfect for lectures, classroom-style seating and social events. "It’s not your typical banquet room," Schmidt said.

For more information, call the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau at 800-678-8767 or Wonders of Wildlife at 417-890-9453 or visit the Web at www.SpringfieldAdventures.com or www.wondersofwildlife.org.