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'It's taken a beating': Irvine Park Zoo in need of upgrades

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The animal exhibits that house the bears, tigers and hyenas in the Irvine Park Zoo need some upgrades, says Parks Director John Jimenez.

“There is just some damage the tigers have done to the exterior,” Jimenez explained. “We’re looking to patch up the exterior and some foundation cracks.”

In the bear exhibit, there are also cracks and leaks by the waterfall, he said.

The tigers, in particular, play with heavy recreational toys, and those have caused some damage.

Jimenez recently told the Chippewa Falls Parks Board that an architect firm has studied the three exhibits and gave him a quote for $78,000 for repairs: about $18,000 for the hyena enclosure, $14,000 for the tigers’ pen, and $46,000 for the bears’ den. The improvements also call for installing more overhead shading for the animals.

“We wanted a good number to go off of,” Jimenez said of the construction estimate. “Now we’re evaluating how we move forward.”

The Parks Department has several endowments, but the money for this year has been tied into renovations in the Flag Hill area of Irvine Park, as an entirely new bathroom building is currently being installed. So, Jimenez said he is working on plans to finance the zoo upgrades, from adding more donation boxes to reaching out to donors.

“I think awareness is one of the biggest components because we do have such a generous community,” Jimenez said. “I do think people will answer the call.”

Ideally, the work would be done by fall 2022. “Having a goal to have it done in 2022 is a realistic goal,” he said.

Other upgrades to the three exhibits began earlier this year, as six of the thick glass panels were replaced. Many of the glass panels had become foggy and hard to see through. Jimenez said nearly half the glass panels have been replaced, and the goal is to finish that project as well.

Beth Arneberg, Parks Board president, said this marks the launch of the upgrades, and they are still working on plans to move forward.

“It’s just wear-and-tear,” Arnberg said. “It’s nothing that is dangerous to the animals or the public.”

The first bear cage constructed in Irvine Park was in 1909. The small animals building was constructed in 1914 and was rebuilt in 1962. However, those aging exhibits were considered unsafe for the animals and the zoo workers, and it wasn’t easy to see the animals.

In 2002, the Chippewa Falls Parks Board voted to build the three new displays at a cost of about $1.2 million, which was raised through private donations. The bear exhibit, which opened in 2005, is about 5,000 square feet. The cougar display, which opened in 2008, has about 2,600 square feet in size, and now houses two tigers. The final exhibit, which opened in 2010, is about 2,000 square feet; it originally housed bobcats but now features two hyenas. The new exhibits, with glass windows, allow the public to stand close to the animals and view their habitat.

Those three new exhibits paved the way for the new welcome center and small animals building that features the lemurs, coatimundi, a Capuchin monkey and maras, along with a variety of birds.

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