Archive: Detroit Zoo’s Polk Penguin Conservation Center to Close Temporarily Beginning September 9 for Repairs Due to Faulty Waterproofing by Construction Contractor

Water infiltration issues to be fixed, penguins to move to former habitat

June 20, 2019

ROYAL OAK, Mich., 

The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) will temporarily close the Detroit Zoo’s Polk Penguin Conservation Center beginning September 9 through mid-June 2020 to make repairs due to faulty waterproofing by the construction contractor. Approximately 9 gallons of groundwater are 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, DZS executive director and CEO. “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.”

The DZS filed a legal action against joint venture general contractor DeMaria Wharton-Smith for faulty waterproofing and 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 Polk Penguin Conservation Center will remain open throughout the summer before work commences September 9. The penguins will live in the former Penguinarium at the Detroit Zoo while their home is being repaired, but that facility will not be open to visitors.

“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.”

“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.

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.