Detroit Zoo's penguin center to close for 9 months

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News
The Detroit Zoo’s Polk Penguin Conservation Center will close on Sept. 9 and reopen in mid-June 2020 for repairs.

Royal Oak — This is cold. The Detroit Zoo's $32 million Penguin center that's three years old will have to close in September for nine months because of faulty waterproofing, officials said.

The Detroit Zoological Society said Thursday it will close the zoo’s Polk Penguin Conservation Center on Sept. 9 for repairs and reopen in mid-June 2020.

The center will remain open throughout the summer before the work starts.

During the work, the penguins will live in the former Penguinarium at the zoo. The facility will not be open to visitors, however.

The faulty waterproofing by the construction contractor is to blame, officials said. They said about nine gallons of groundwater is seeping into the building and being pumped out each day.

“Unfortunately, the contractor failed to properly waterproof the foundation, was aware that groundwater water was seeping into the building throughout construction, didn’t fix the problem and failed to inform us,” said Ron Kagan, executive director and CEO, in a statement.

“What we initially observed as a leaky basement was more serious. We only learned of the faulty waterproofing through an independent investigation by a team of engineers and through the legal process.”

Kagan also said the zoo sued against joint-venture general contractor DeMaria/ Wharton-Smith for the faulty waterproofing and for concealing the problems. The matter was settled through arbitration and DeMaria/Wharton-Smith will make necessary repairs at its expense under the supervision of a team of engineers chosen by the zoo.

DeMaria said Thursday that it is proud of its work for the zoo "over the past two decades."

"The joint venture of DeMaria/Wharton Smith has received numerous accolades from industry trade media on the work performed on the Polk Penguin Conservation Center," said a statement from the company. "Regrettably, work completed by subcontractors on the center resulted in leakage requiring repairs.

"The Detroit Zoological Society and the Joint Venture of DeMaria/Wharton Smith agreed through mediation to make repairs to correct the issue of water infiltration. The repairs will be performed by the Joint Venture, mutually agreed upon with the Zoo."  

The Detroit Zoo is the largest paid family attraction in the state and contributed a total of $167.6 million to Metro Detroit last year, according to a study.

More: Detroit Zoo boosts economy by $167M in 2018, study finds 

The 33,000-square-foot Polk Penguin Conservation Center – which opened in April 2016 – has been a major draw. The zoo has an average of 1.5 million annual visitors, but visitation peaked at 1.7 million in 2016 after the penguin center opened, the study said.

The center is home to 75 king, rockhopper, macaroni and gentoo penguins. Its signature feature is a 326,000-gallon, 25-foot-deep aquatic area where visitors can watch the birds swim and dive from two acrylic underwater tunnels.

Twitter: @CharlesERamirez