Polk Penguin Conservation Center

(Photo: Curt Clayton)

Detroit Zoo Penguin Building To Close For 9 Months To Fix Waterproofing

June 20, 2019 - 2:08 pm

ROYAL OAK (WWJ) - There are problems with the penguins' home at the Detroit Zoo.

The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) announced Thursday that it will temporarily close the Detroit Zoo’s Polk Penguin Conservation Center from September 9 to mid-June 2020 to make repairs due to faulty waterproofing by the construction contractor.

The Zoo says around 9 gallons of groundwater has been seeping into the building and being pumped out each day.

Penguins in Habitat
(Photo: Jennie Miller/Detroit Zoo)

“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 DZS executive director and CEO Ron Kagan in a media release. 

“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 says a lawsuit was filed accusing joint venture general contractor DeMaria Wharton-Smith of doing faulty waterproofing work and then concealing the problems. The matter was settled through arbitration and, as a result, DeMaria Wharton-Smith is required to make the necessary repairs at their expense under the supervision of a team of engineers selected by the DZS.

"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. Regrettably, work completed by subcontractors on the Center resulted in leakage requiring repairs," DeMaria Wharton-Smith said in a statement. 

The Polk Penguin Conservation Center will remain open throughout the summer, the Zoo says, before work commences September 9.

“We know this temporary closure will disappoint our guests, and this wouldn’t have been necessary had the facility been built to the architect’s specifications,” Kagan said. “The safety of the building, animals, staff, volunteers and visitors was never in question – regardless, repairs are needed to properly waterproof the foundation.”

The penguins will live in the former Penguinarium while their home is being repaired, but that facility will not be open to visitors.

Why not?

"Part of the problem is that now we have quite a few more penguins," Kagan told WWJ's Sandra McNeill. "And so we've had to modify the old facility to be able to handle more penguins, and there's additional equipment and other things. There just wasn't a way to be able to do this with the public as well."

Gentoo penguins
(Photo: Corydon Martin)

The 33,000-square-foot, $32-million Polk Penguin Conservation Center – which opened in April 2016 – 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. The facility received the 2017 Exhibit Award from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums for excellence in exhibit design.

“I have the utmost confidence in how DZS leadership has handled this situation – from navigating through the legal process to acting to fix the problem – and that the penguins will receive the same great care as always while their home is being repaired,” said DZS Vice Chair Stephen R. Polk, whose family fund provided the lead gift to build the penguin center.

For Detroit Zoo hours, prices, directions and other information, visit detroitzoo.org.