The North Carolina Zoo has a $20 million backlog of maintenance projects. But the zoo can't touch the funding from the Connect N.C. bond initiative for things like a new aviary dome or HVAC system, according to Director Pat Simmons. That’s because the $25 million in bond money has been set aside for an Australia and Asia exhibit, which Simmons said is also necessary.
“You cannot continue to have a zoo that is productive and modern without building new things,” Simmons said. “You also cannot have a zoo that's appreciated and respected and of quality for accreditation without keeping it fixed. There is no choice, either or. You must do both.”
Simmons said the maintenance backlog had raised concerns from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the zoo's accrediting body.
“They really were concerned about our inability to keep things behind the scenes fixed,’ Simmons said. “Everything in front of house was looking great, and we've always kept it good for the public and safe. But behind the scenes, things were starting to fall apart, and equipment was starting to get very very aged.”
That's why Simmons says she's grateful that the General Assembly has put up $4.5 million for maintenance projects in the new state budget. They've done so for three years running.
The earmark is intended to chip away at the backlog of maintenance project. The zoo also intends to build a new Asia region by 2023, followed by an Australia exhibit.