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Published: Sunday, 9/30/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Zoo’s aquarium to close for 2 years for renovation

BY TANYA IRWIN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
The Toledo Zoo is closing its aquarium for a major renovation of the building. Though the outside will remain the same, the $25 million renovations inside will take place throughout the next two years, The Toledo Zoo is closing its aquarium for a major renovation of the building. Though the outside will remain the same, the $25 million renovations inside will take place throughout the next two years,
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It's time to say “so long,” but not “good-bye," to the historic Toledo Zoo Aquarium, which closes at the end of the day today for a $25 million renovation.

The inside of the building, which opened to the public in June, 1939, will undergo an extensive renovation, said Jay Hemdal, curator of fishes and invertebrates. Its grand reopening is slated for April, 2015.

Although the interior size will stay the same, the water volume of the exhibits will more than triple to 178,000 gallons from 46,000. And the largest exhibit, which is currently 7,600 gallons, will increase to 90,000 gallons and will take up the entire rotunda, which is currently the round floor space in the entrance to the building closest to the East Broadway zoo entrance.

“It’s going to be much more interactive and much more engaging,” Mr. Hemdal said.

It will have several hands-on exhibits, and the large tank will include a microphoned diver who will give educational talks while feeding the fish, he said.

Architectural enthusiasts need not worry that the beautiful brick and stone features of the last of the zoo buildings created by the Works Progress Administration will be sacrificed in the remodel, said Jeff Sailer, the zoo’s executive director.

“The outside of the building will remain mostly untouched,” Mr. Sailer said. “However, we are moving the entrance back to the middle of the building, which is actually where it was originally.”

About 80 percent of the money for the project is coming from the proceeds of the 2006 Lucas County tax levy. The remaining 20 percent is coming from private donations, Mr. Sailer said.

This is the first major renovation of the building in its 73-year history. Boilers dating from the 1950s were replaced in 1998 with a geothermal heating system, which will be incorporated into the renovation.

Preparation for the renovation goes back several years when the zoo stopped receiving new fish and started making plans on where to move the fish that would not be staying at the zoo during the move.

About 25 percent of the current residents will be moved and remain at a warehouse on the zoo grounds. The remaining 75 percent have already started traveling to about a dozen other accredited zoo aquariums.

Finding homes for thousands of fish isn’t easy. To identify potential recipients, the zoo looked at three factors.

“One is the quality of care they might be able to provide,” Mr. Hemdal said. “Another is their proximity to us. And a third is their ability to transport the fish.”

Zoo spokesman Andi Norman said not all of the fish will be returned to Toledo, and the percentage that may be returned is unknown at this time. Ms. Norman said she doesn’t know if the host zoos will replace any fish that die under their care. She noted about the fish that would be harder to replace, "we’re keeping those and building temporary holding" facilities for them.

"Rare fish are physically still at the zoo, just not on exhibit. The temporary holding area is in a warehouse near the Anthony Wayne Trail on zoo grounds," she said.

Last week, some of the striking Frontosa cichlids were packed up and shipped via Federal Express to the Minneapolis Zoo. Packing and shipping is easy with the small fish.

Zoo keeper and aquarist Angie Benner, left, works with lead keeper and aquarist Laurie Dixon, right, to pack up a few Frontosa Cichlid for shipping Wednesday from a tank at the Toledo Zoo. Zoo keeper and aquarist Angie Benner, left, works with lead keeper and aquarist Laurie Dixon, right, to pack up a few Frontosa Cichlid for shipping Wednesday from a tank at the Toledo Zoo.
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The larger fish present more of a challenge.

Moody Gardens of Galveston, Texas, recently picked up 40 piceatus cichlids, 3 Leopoldi stingrays, and a tarpon.

Size definitely matters in moving fish because the weight of the fish determines how much waste it will produce in a nonfiltered tank during its transport to a new location.

If the waste builds up too much in the transport water, it poisons the fish. The length of the trip is a big factor too.

The tarpon, about 44 inches long and weighing about 28 pounds, required sedation to safely move. Aquarists usually sedate fish by adding medication to the water. But this tarpon shares the South American exhibit with other fish, so the goal was to use as little sedative as possible.

Less water means less sedative, so the team drains the tank to a level of about 24 inches.

The aquarists have prepared underwater “squirt bottles” with the sedative so that one person can approach the tarpon, and quietly — without encouraging any defensive action — spray the sedative in its face.

The moving of the fish began in earnest after a bon voyage party was held Aug. 11, Mr. Hemdal said. Many of the fish won’t be moved until after the aquarium closes. Demolition won't begin until Nov. 20.

“We wanted folks to be able to still have a good experience, right up until the end,” he said.

After the last of the fish either is sent to new homes or moved to the warehouse, aquarium staff will rotate in taking much needed time off during December. In January, some of the staff will tend to the fish in the warehouse, while others will be relocated temporarily to open positions in other parts of the zoo.

In the second half of 2014, they will return to the new aquarium to begin receiving the new fish that will start arriving.

“Having enough lead time before the opening is really important,” Mr. Hemdal said. “We want to make sure everything is quarantined properly and when we reopen, everything is perfect from Day One.”

Deanna McCabe of Grand Rapids, Ohio, was at the aquarium for one final visit last week with her 4-year-old twins, Kayla and Leah.

“They wanted to say good-bye to some of their favorite fish,” Ms. McCabe said.

If fish enthusiasts just can’t wait until April, 2015, for an aquarium fix, they don’t have to travel far to visit some of the Toledo Zoo’s former residents. One aquarium taking a large number of fish is the Newport Aquarium in Newport, Ky.

Some of the fish that are staying in the holding tanks at the warehouse at the zoo during the renovation include species that would be hard to replace, such as the endangered Australian Lung Fish. Another that will be staying is the Alligator Snapping Turtle, Mr. Hemdal said. Much of the slow-growing coral will also stay in the warehouse.

“We didn’t want the new aquarium to be totally unfamiliar," Mr. Hemdal said.

“Some of the old favorites will be back.”

Contact Tanya Irwin at: tirwin@theblade.com or 419-724-6066.



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