The Garden State Discovery Museum in Cherry Hill will manage Mount Laurel's PAWS Farm Nature Center under an agreement reached this week.

The township, which acquired the nature center in 1979, will continue to own it, Mayor Linda Bobo said in a statement, but the museum will "take over all aspects of facility management."

Meredith Tomczyk, the acting township manager, said that the farm, home to dozens of animals, including snakes, turtles, monkeys, donkeys, horses, a peacock, a swan, and a potbellied pig, was "expensive to care for," and that the Discovery Museum "is more experienced in marketing this kind of place."

The arrangement calls for no layoffs of PAWS's six employees at the 12-acre site, which will be renamed the PAWS Discovery Center.

Both facilities are aimed at children 10 and younger.

"It's a magical place here," Kelly Lyons, the museum's director, said Tuesday as she strolled at sunset from PAWS's 18th century farmhouse to a corral where alpacas and miniature donkeys and horses were feeding on hay. "We think it's going to be a perfect fit."

PAWS will close Jan. 1 for site improvement, creation of new facilities, and relocation of displays and animal populations, said Lyons.

She pointed out an upstairs barn where she hopes to one day create a theater, and to a section of the butterfly garden where she envisions a setting for Alice in Wonderland tea parties.

"We'll be moving a lot of things around," she said.

Plans also call for creation of birthday party rooms, trail improvements, a toy and gift store, and the addition of educators, animal keepers, and sales staff when the center reopens March 1.

"We always wished we had more space" at the museum, said Lyons, who has been its director for the past decade. Created in 1999 and privately owned, the museum is in an industrial park on Springdale Road and draws 250,000 visitors annually.

The Subaru Center for Learning, a nonprofit arm of the museum, "will be the entity that manages" the nature center, according to Lyons, who said museum staff "will lend expertise" to its operations.

PAWS, on Mount Laurel-Hainesport Road, draws about 53,000 visitors a year, according to its Facebook page. Lyons said she hopes to make PAWS attractive to older children as well. 856-779-3841