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Ground broken on new Idaho Falls Zoo Education Center

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IDAHO FALLS — City leaders and members of the community gathered at the Idaho Falls Zoo at Tautphaus Park Thursday afternoon for the groundbreaking of the William J. Maeck Education Center.

Zoo Executive Director David Pennock told the crowd during the groundbreaking that the new building will enhance the ability to educate more kids.

“We’ve been cramming droves of kids into a classroom that was built for two, three, maybe four,” Pennock said.

Last year the zoo provided organized educational programs for over 2,000 guests. Only 400 guests were able to participate directly in classes at the zoo last year because of the lack of space.

RELATED | $500,000 donation leads to New Education Center at the Idaho Falls Zoo

Pennock said the current building was built in 1934 and has no running water.

“Imagine educating thousands of children with no bathroom. That is a challenge. Yet, our programs have grown. They’re vibrant and strong and meaningful. I think that is such a testament to the Idaho Falls Zoo,” said Pennock.

The new center will include three classrooms that could accommodate more than 200 students as well as storage and office space, for a total of approximately 4,500 square feet.

Greg Weitzel, Director of the Department of Parks and Recreation, paid tribute to those who supported the development of this facility, including the city council, the Tautphaus Park Zoological Society and the building’s namesake William Maeck, who passed away in February.

“Bill was not one to show emotions, but this was a project he really cared about,” Weitzel said. “He actually broke into tears when explaining how excited he was for this project to happen.”

Maeck was a retired chemist and prolific local philanthropist who gave millions of dollars to the Idaho Falls community.

Mayor Casper paid tribute to Maeck by referring to the “zoo babies” or kids who come to the zoo with their parents to not only look at the animals, but to also laugh and create memories together.

“When we build this building, we will be producing many more zoo babies than we ever could (with the current building),” Casper said. “We can instill a fascination with the world in more children. I believe in my heart that’s what Bill Maeck had in mind when he made this contribution.”

The Idaho Falls City Council unanimously approved a resolution to accept a $500,000 donation from Maeck for a new zoo education center last February. The Zoological Society also raised $250,000 for the project.

The zoo education center is slated for completion in October.

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