New penguin center at Detroit Zoo closing in Sept. for waterproofing repairs

The new penguin center at the Detroit Zoo will be closing temporarily later this summer for needed foundation repairs. 

The zoo says their construction contractor put it faulty waterproofing, and that approximately 9 gallons of groundwater are coming into the building and needing to be pumped out each day. 

The Zoo executive director and CEO Ron Kagan says they initially just thought they had a leaky basement, but they got engineers to investigate and were informed the foundation just wasn't waterproofed correctly. 

"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," Kagan said. The zoo took legal action with the general contractor, DeMaria Wharton-Smith, who is now required to fix it at their expense. 

The Polk Penguin Conservation Center will be open for the majority of the rest of the summer, and will close on September 9 for work to begin. It's not expected to reopen until June 2020. 

Meanwhile, the penguins will head back to their old habitat but it won't be open for 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."

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.