- Associated Press - Friday, June 10, 2016

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Officials hope to break ground next year on an expansion of the Lincoln Children’s Zoo, expanding the zoo’s footprint from nine acres to about 14.

On Thursday officials from the zoo, the city and Lincoln Public Schools announced their joint plans for new animal exhibits, renovation of the zoo’s Ager Play Center and construction of permanent quarters for school district’s Science Focus Program.

Zoo Executive Director John Chapo said the zoo will launch a campaign later this year to raise $12 million to $16 million for the expansion.

“We anticipate that this expansion will increase the size of the zoo by about 40 percent,” Chapo said. “Even with the expansion we remain committed to our identity as a small, intimate zoo providing opportunities for our visitors to interact with plants and animals and to learn firsthand.”

Mayor Chris Beutler said the expansion project will maintain neighborhood integrity.

“It is an iconic asset for Lincoln, and children and families across the state,” Beutler said. “Two hundred thousand people a year visit the zoo in Lincoln. It has a significant economic impact.”

The Ager Play Center, built by the Work Progress Administration in the 1930s, will return to its original purpose as a zoo exhibit and activity area. But Chapo said it’s not yet clear what new animal species will be introduced to future zoo visitors and how the exhibit areas will be configured.

The permanent quarters for the Science Focus Program, or Zoo School, will have space to eliminate the need for three portable classrooms that sit near the concession area.

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