Despite a new round of bidding, the proposed cost of an Adventure Africa Elephant Exhibit at the Milwaukee County Zoo is still coming in higher than officials had hoped.
Contractors and others gathered in a small office behind the Milwaukee County Clerk’s desk Wednesday afternoon as officials opened and read aloud all the bids for the project. The apparent low bidder – VJS Construction Services, Pewaukee – said it could perform the work for a little less than $14.7 million. That offer put it ahead of the other bidders on the project: J.P Cullen & Sons, Janesville; Gilbane Building Co.’s Milwaukee office; and Scherrer Construction Co., Burlington, which quoted prices ranging from about $15.3 million to $15.5 million.
Yet even though VJS Construction Services’ bid was lower than its competitors’ offers, it might still be too high for the project’s budget. Chuck Wikenhauser, director of the Milwaukee County Zoo, said on Thursday morning that $16.6 million is available to finance the project. Although that’s not enough to cover VJS Construction’s $14.7 million bid offer, it would fall short once design costs and related expenses are added in.
Wikenhauser said zoo officials now must find a way to come up with the additional needed money. Wikenhauser said he is optimistic they can have a plan in place in the next 60 days, as they will have to if they are to meet a deadline for acting on the bids received this week.
“We’re very close at this point,” he said.
Wednesday’s bid opening marked the second time the county had received bids for the elephant exhibit. The first round of offers – received in June – were also deemed too high.
In the hope of getting lower bids this time around, Wikenhauser said, the project’s plans were modified. The biggest change eliminated plans for a bridge that provided smaller animals with a way of getting into the elephant exhibit. Elsewhere, the size of a proposed filtration system and watering hole was decreased.
A new elephant exhibit is needed to ensure the zoo remains compliant with the non-profit Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ standards for elephant care.
These standards call for zoos to be able to house three elephants at a minimum. Likewise, zoos are called on to care for the large animals in areas that are big enough to suit their needs. Wikenhauser said the necessary accommodations “are just amazing, because you’re dealing with animals that weigh 10,000 to 14,000 pounds.”
The elephant exhibit is not the only zoo project to run into budgetary obstacles. A new otter exhibit, which is being built as part of the zoo’s new west-entrance project, has also been delayed because of cost concerns.
At a meeting in May, county supervisors decided to withhold $2.35 million from the project after finding that it was at risk of overrunning its budget. County Board Chairman Theodore Lipscomb then said he and his colleagues had been under the impression the otter exhibit would cost only about $1 million.
“That’s a pretty extreme cost overrun,” Lipscomb said.
The money was ultimately approved about a month later. But Melissa Baldauff, a spokeswoman for Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, said in June that the delay would not be without consequences. She predicted the project would now have to be rebid and that the offers would be even higher this time around.
Wikenhauser clarified on Thursday that only certain parts of the project would have to be put out to bid again. Those include parts calling for the construction of an interior holding and caging system, filtration systems and water-treatment systems.
Other parts – including projects involving artificial rock; various pools and viewing areas; and some electrical, plumbing and mechanical systems- would not have to rebid. Most of that work can be done by contractors who have already been enlisted for the west-entrance project. Follow @alexzank