Coalition Calls for Added Funding of Brookfield Zoo in Capital Bill

Coalition Calls for Added Funding of Brookfield Zoo in Capital Bill

Coalition Calls for Added Funding of Brookfield Zoo in Capital Bill

Infrastructure investment will fix crumbling facilities and spur local economy while preventing cuts to conservation and education programs

As negotiations over the state’s first major capital construction program in a decade get underway, the B-NICE Coalition (Brookfield Zoo: Needed Infrastructure for Compassionate Education) is calling on lawmakers and Gov. J.B. Pritzker to include funding for Brookfield Zoo among those important infrastructure investment projects.

Managed by the non-profit Chicago Zoological Society, the zoo supports nearly 2,000 jobs and offers vital conservation, education and engagement programs throughout the region, including free training and learning experiences for teachers and students in some of the state’s most diverse and disadvantaged areas. This investment from the state will ensure Brookfield Zoo can update aging facilities that have led to leaky roofs and gas lines, electrical failures, flooded paths, potholes and buckled pavement.

A recent assessment by an outside firm puts a total price tag of immediate needs at roughly $260 million.

Brookfield Zoo exhibit. Photo courtesy of Ray Hanania

Brookfield Zoo exhibit. Photo courtesy of Ray Hanania

“We know that’s a big number, but it’s important to consider that the more we receive from the state, the more we are able to focus on sustaining and expanding conservation, science, nature, leadership and accessibility programs that directly benefit our communities,” said Stuart Strahl, president and CEO of the Chicago Zoological Society. “Without help, we’ll be forced to divert funds away from these important missions in order to address basic safety concerns for guests and animals alike.”

If lawmakers do not approve this critical request for infrastructure funding, drastic steps may be necessary including cuts to community outreach and childhood education programs, reduced park hours and raising the cost of admission. These options are devastating for the growing number of people who rely on zoos as their only connection to wildlife and the primary place for nature and science learning for children. Capital improvement dollars from the state will allow Brookfield Zoo to maintain and expand vital education and conservation programming, including training and learning experiences for hundreds of teachers and thousands of students in economically disadvantaged areas.

“At a time when schools are fighting for resources, our teachers have benefited from the zoo’s professional development programs and our students have gained unique hands-on experience through a job shadowing program that pairs students with members of the zoo staff,” said William Hook, principal of the Chicago High School of Agricultural Sciences. “We should be building on these initiatives, not hollowing them out.”

Currently the zoo’s educational programs, which range from early childhood nature-play activities to elementary and high school STEM programing, reach more than 4,000 individuals every year and serve mainly under resourced communities. Over 250,000 students and teachers visit the zoo on free field trips each year, and the Chicago Zoological Society provides more than half a million free passes annually to under resourced communities and organizations serving veterans, seniors, and individuals with disabilities, among others.

Colleen Smith, legislative director for the Illinois Environmental Council, said lawmakers should use the opportunities presented by a statewide capital construction bill to preserve open spaces and protect wildlife.

“Brookfield Zoo’s dedication to furthering conservation efforts both on their grounds and off is impressive,” said Walling. “Future generations will particularly benefit from the zoo’s focus on early education programs that invite children to explore and play in the natural world, where they gain knowledge, skills, and the inspiration to protect our planet and its diverse inhabitants.”

Brookfield Zoo was previously granted $17 million as part of the last capital bill in 2009, which was used to rehab the aging Reptile House into a new Gold LEED Certified Conservation Leadership Center, the zoo’s hub for educational and volunteer programs. Those funds were also used to replace aging boilers and roofs and complete electrical upgrades, ensuring the continued safety and wellbeing of the zoo’s guests, staff and animals. That investment resulted in an additional $51 million in economic activity, $16 million in employee wages and more than $5.6 million in local, state and federal tax revenues.

“Making these necessary infrastructures improvements will not just benefit Brookfield Zoo, but Cook County as a whole by creating more jobs and generating greater tourism activity. The additional revenue produced by this investment would in turn help drive economic activity in the Chicagoland area for years to come,” said Jack Lavin, president & CEO, Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce.

Additional state funding will help Brookfield Zoo build new exhibits that inspire conservation, expand free admission programs for those from under resourced communities and allow for greater outreach in the community. Those funds will also help spur additional economic activity, including creating more than 4,000 jobs, at least $240 million in wages, and $80 million in local, state and federal tax revenues.

“Brookfield Zoo has proven to be an important part of the social and economic fabric of the entire region,” said John Carpenter, president and CEO, Choose DuPage Economic Development Alliance and co-chair, Community Engagement and Social Innovation Committee for the Brookfield Zoo Board of Directors. “This investment is critical to maintain and grow the fantastic conservation and education programming that brings great value to regional communities.”

About the B-NICE Coalition

The B-NICE Coalition (Brookfield Zoo: Needed Infrastructure for Compassionate Education) is dedicated to advocating for increased state investment in Brookfield Zoo to ensure people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities have access to education and conservation programming that inspires the protection of wildlife and natural resources. Members are comprised of conservation, education and economic groups including the Illinois Environmental Council and the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce. For more information, visit www.b-nice.net

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Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania is an award-winning columnist, author & former Chicago City Hall reporter (1977-1992). A veteran who served during the Vietnam War and the recipient of four SPJ Peter Lisagor Awards for column writing, Hanania writes weekly opinion columns on mainstream American & Chicagoland topics for the Southwest News-Herald, Des Plaines Valley News, the Regional News, The Reporter Newspapers, and Suburban Chicagoland.  

Hanania also writes about Middle East issues for the Arab News, and The Arab Daily News criticizing government policies in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A critic of mainstream news media bias, Hanania advocates for peace & justice for Israel & Palestine, & the empowerment of Arabs in America. 

"I write about three topics, the Middle East, politics and life in general. I often take my life experiences and offer them in an entertaining way to readers, and I take on the toughest topics like the Israel-Palestine conflict and don't pull any punches about what I feel is fair. But, my priority is always about writing the good story."

Click Here to LISTEN to Hanania's live radio show on 2nd Friday every month 7 AM CST. Click here to listen to Ray's Podcasts. 

His columns are archived here. Hanania was named "Best Ethnic American Columnist" by the New America Media in November 2007, and is the 2009 recipient of the SPJ National Sigma Delta Chi Award for column writing.

Email Ray Hanania at rghanania@gmail.com.

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