Local News Spotlight

KC Zoo completes fundraising, breaks ground for penguin exhibit

The fundraising has gone well, director says, and now construction work begins.

Updated: 2012-09-20T04:46:03Z

By MATT CAMPBELL

The Kansas City Star

The Kansas City Zoo has met its fundraising goal for a penguin exhibit, and construction crews will begin demolishing buildings this week to make room for it.

“This is something we’ve dreamt about for a long, long time,” said zoo director Randy Wisthoff at a groundbreaking Wednesday. He had mentioned penguins when he arrived here in 2003 from the Omaha, Neb., zoo.

The Friends of the Zoo here announced Wednesday that the group had raised $4.1 million for the project, exceeding the goal of funding 25 percent of the construction costs for major projects with private donations. The rest will come from revenues from a sales tax approved last year by voters in Jackson and Clay counties.

The contract with the J.E. Dunn Construction Co. for the 17,600-square-foot exhibit is $12 million, and the total project cost is about $15 million.

The Kansas City Zoo has never had penguins. But by the end of next year it will boast one of the best exhibits of its kind in the country. It will have a 100,000-gallon pool of chilled water for cold-climate penguin species. Their indoor space will include a snow-making machine.

A separate, 25,000-gallon pool will have both indoor and outdoor areas for warmer-climate Humboldt penguins.

Three other aquariums will house coral reef fish, schooling fish and jellyfish.

The exhibit will be called the Helzberg Penguin Plaza after a major gift from Shirley and Barnett Helzberg in memory of the late Barnett C. Helzberg Sr.

The penguins’ home will be next to the zoo’s carousel, not far from the entrance to the animal park. It will be the latest major addition to the zoo in a decade that has also seen a polar bear exhibit, a revamped tropical building, a new zoo entrance and learning center, a shortcut path to the African exhibits and a sky ride.

Zoo officials are updating a master plan to reflect the dedicated revenue stream from the sales tax.

“We hope to invest more than $100 million in the zoo over the next 10 years,” said Bill Crandall, chairman of the Friends of the Zoo.

To reach Matt Campbell, call 816-234-4902 or send email to mcampbell@kcstar.com.

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