Aging zoo needs exhibit upgrades 

The San Francisco Zoo must dust off a 16-year-old master plan in hopes of eventually appealing for new funds to rehabilitate its
antiquated exhibits.

The zoo is saddled with problems due to deferred maintenance and limited funding that are only exacerbated by its aging facility.

About 40 percent of the infrastructure that encages more than 800 animals is between 30 and 60 years old, according to preliminary stages of a new master plan. Its oldest structures still in use are more than 70 years old.

To secure funding for the necessary upgrades, the current master plan — used to map out priorities for projects, financing and timelines — must be revamped. It has not been updated since 1994.

However, it’s not the first time the zoo has attempted to update the plan. In 2007, officials started to make changes but tabled them following the fatal Christmas Day mauling, focus instead on recovery plans and concerns about old, unsafe infrastructure and hit them with more than $2 million in unexpected expenses, zoo spokeswoman Lora LaMarca said.

But despite the need for structural upgrades, zoo officials said they have little reserve set aside from their $20 million operating budget to fund any major renovations. And, they are operating with a $3 million deficit.

“There’s a whole host of issues,” said zoo board of directors Vice Chair David Stanton, who recently presented the sparsely updated version of the master plan to the Zoological Society. “It’s very much like painting the Golden Gate Bridge.”

Stanton suggested asking their backbone of about 12 donors for financial help, and they have considered the idea of a bond. He estimated it could be $100 million, but said it was nowhere near a researched number.

Animal Control and Welfare Commission Vice Chair Andrea Brooks asked that the Zoological Society update its documents, make priorities with timelines and spend any money for capital projects on exhibit rejuvenation.

The last time the zoo asked for bond money was in 1997, when voters approved $48 million to improve the facility.

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Doug Graham

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