SPRINGFIELD — Officials from the Brookfield Zoo in the suburban Chicago area said Wednesday they will ask the state to help fund an estimated $260 million in needed upgrades and repairs as lawmakers consider a larger statewide capital improvements bill.
Backed by a coalition of environmental and education advocates, zoo officials said that without state funding, the zoo is in danger of having to cut back on its hours of operations and some of its educational programs, as well as raise the cost of admission.
Officials said the aging facilities, which date to the 1930s, have deteriorated, leading to leaky roofs and gas lines, failing electrical systems, potholes, buckled pavement and inadequate exhibits.
Stuart Strahl, president and CEO of the Chicago Zoological Society, which operates the zoo, said the coalition will not ask lawmakers for the full $260 million. He said the zoo also receives funding from Cook County, philanthropic donations and revenue from ticket sales.
In 2004, lawmakers increased Cook County’s bonding authority to pay for other upgrades, but Strahl said that authority has been exhausted. The last capital bill, which lawmakers passed in 2009, included $17 million for zoo improvements.
Officials said the Brookfield Zoo attracts about 2 million visitors a year, making it the busiest ticketed visitor attraction in the state. About 80 percent of those visitors come from within a 50-mile radius of the zoo.