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Otter exhibit project back on after County Board approves expenditure

Otters, rejoice.

After effectively putting on hold a $2.35 million project to build a new otter exhibit at the Milwaukee County Zoo, members of the County Board of Supervisors on Thursday decided they were comfortable enough with the expenditure to move forward.

At a previous meeting, the board had put the money into a contingency fund rather than allow it to be spent on the otter exhibit project. Some supervisors had said they were concerned with an apparent increase in the project’s cost.

Supervisors said what once was expected to be a $1 million project had more than doubled in cost, and they wanted an answer about why that had happened. Officials in County Executive Chris Abele’s office responding by saying that the cost increase shouldn’t have come as a surprise, especially since county staff had told the board that the zoo site’s poor soil conditions were to blame for the upward pressure on costs.

The new otter exhibit is one part of a general redevelopment of the zoo’s western entrance. The ongoing reconstruction nearby of the massive Zoo Interchange had caused the county to lose some land at the zoo’s eastern edge.

After a lengthy legal battle, the state and county reached a settlement earlier this year providing the county with nearly $13 million for the land it had lost. The money is being used to replace lost parking spaces and to build a new western-entrance, which will include the otter exhibit.

The County Board voted 16-2 on Thursday to move the otter-exhibit money out of the contingency fund and put it toward the project. The only two voting against the measure were Supervisor Deanna Alexander and Chairman Theodore Lipscomb.

Earlier this month, Lipscomb had said the new project’s cost of $2.35 million was “a pretty extreme overrun.”

And it may get just a bit more expensive. Because the work had to be delayed while waiting for the cash to come through, it will now likely have to be re-bid.

Still, the expectation remains that the otter exhibit and west entrance will be finished next year.

A zoo official said the hope is that the project will wrap up next summer, before the zoo’s “busy season.”

About Alex Zank, alex.zank@dailyreporter.com

Alex Zank is a construction reporter for The Daily Reporter. He can be reached at 414-225-1820.

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