Aquarium renovations nearly complete

Zoo project triples exhibit space; on track for 2015 reopening

4/7/2014
BY ALEXANDRA MESTER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
The Toledo Zoo aquarium, a 30,000-square-foot WPA building that opened in 1939, is undergoing a complete renovation. The construction phase will continue through September.
The Toledo Zoo aquarium, a 30,000-square-foot WPA building that opened in 1939, is undergoing a complete renovation. The construction phase will continue through September.

The construction phase of the Toledo Zoo’s renovated aquarium isn’t far from being finished and is on track for a spring 2015 reopening.

The aquarium has been closed since October, 2012, for the $25.5 million project that more than triples the total gallons of water from 46,000 to 175,000 with 32 main exhibits and numerous smaller tanks. The largest tank, to be a salt-water Pacific Reef display, is now 90,000 gallons, more than 12 times larger than the largest previous tank that held 7,600 gallons.

“It’s a huge, huge project,” zoo spokesman Andi Norman said. “This is an unbelievable project.”

PHOTO GALLERY: A look inside the Toledo Zoo's aquarium renovation

Ms. Norman said the building had been starting to require more and more upkeep as the water took its toll, particularly after the addition of salt-water exhibits. This project is the first major renovation of the 1939 building built of brick and stone by the Works Progress Administration, one of several WPA buildings on the zoo grounds.

“Preserving the architectural integrity of the building was very important to us and to the community,” Ms. Norman said. “That makes it challenging too.”

Rick Payeff, director of facilities and planning, said each brick and stone on the exterior of the building was inspected individually. Repair and replacement of brick and stone were made as needed, carefully chipping to avoid damage to adjacent building materials. “That is a very specific, time-consuming project,” Mr. Payeff said.

Ms. Norman said the stone will be cleaned.

Mr. Payeff said the construction phase will continue through September. Six tanks filled with water are being tested for leaks.

“We had one small leak, but it’s easily fixed,” he said.

Once all tanks are tested, they will be drained and the decorative exhibits will be installed. Then comes the process of refilling them and adding fish, which must first be quarantined, then carefully introduced into their new environment.

Workers continue construction inside the aquarium of the Toledo Zoo. The renovation includes the installation of two touch tanks that allow visitors to intereact with such creatures as stingrays.
Workers continue construction inside the aquarium of the Toledo Zoo. The renovation includes the installation of two touch tanks that allow visitors to intereact with such creatures as stingrays.

“The fish are going to be introduced into the exhibits in four stages from September through the first of the year,” Mr. Payeff said. “We can’t get all the fish at the same time, because we don’t have enough places to quarantine them.”

The zoo also will be built in time to be sure the fish’s environment is healthy and stable before it opens to the public.

The renovation includes the installation of two touch tanks where visitors will be able to touch and interact with the creatures on display there, such as stingrays and sharks. Mr. Payeff said those tanks required special filtration systems to handle the body oils, sunscreen, dirt, and other contaminants that will naturally be introduced to the tanks as part of the interactive experience.

Mr. Payeff said the construction process has so far been smooth with no major surprises or unexpected stumbling blocks.

“It’s really starting to look like an aquarium now instead of just a construction zone,” Ms. Norman said.

A new building adjacent to the aquarium housing the Penguin Beach exhibit along with the new Flamingo Key and Finch Niche exhibits are slated to open May 23 of this year.

Contact Alexandra Mester: amester@theblade.com, 419-724-6066, or on Twitter @AlexMesterBlade.