Brookfield Zoo asking state for $260M to fix infrastructure problems

Brookfield Zoo may need to increase admission prices or even cut educational programs because officials say the zoo is in desperate need of $260 million for a variety of repairs, including leaking roofs and failing electrical systems.

A coalition of zoo supporters hopes the timing is right for them to get money from the state. Lawmakers are about to look at Illinois’ first major capital construction program in a decade, so the zoo's asking to be included.

When it comes down to it, it's the animals' well-being they're considering.

“Without assistance, we may have to take some drastic steps which include program cuts or raising the cost of admission, reducing park hours or closing buildings,” said Stuart Strall, President and CEO, Chicago Zoological Society. 

Zoo officials say they don't want to do that, but they say they can't ignore an independent assessment identifying serious problem areas. Strall says the state should help the zoo, which pumps millions of dollars into the economy and offers thousands of jobs each year.

"Investment from the state will ensure that our aging facilities and infrastructure, which were opened in 1934, can be updated so that visitors and animals alike aren't confronted with leaking roofs, gas leaks, failing electrical systems, flooding, potholes and buckled pavement,” said Strall. 

The estimated price tag to fix it all is $260 million. 

“That's a very large number, but it's important to consider the more we receive from the state to help repair crumbling infrastructure, the more we're able to focus on sustaining and expanding,” said Strall. 

Zoo officials say 80 percent of visitors live within 50 miles of the zoo. They also say it offers invaluable educational and research opportunities.

“I’m honored to be here today to ask lawmakers to increase your investment in Brookfield zoo because I’ve been lucky enough to see the tremendous benefits for our schools and students as a result of our partnership with the zoo,” said Principal William Hook, Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences. 

While $260 million is the magic number, zoo officials have reduced that down to their “top priority list,” which is $104 million.