The Lincoln Children’s Zoo’s stated fundraising goal for its upcoming 10-acre expansion project — which will bring new animals, classrooms, facilities and parking spaces to the zoo — is $20 million by 2020.
On Friday, CEO John Chapo announced a sizable donation that helped the zoo get 75 percent of the way there, with a few years to spare.
Lincoln's Scheels All-Sports Foundation presented Chapo with a $300,000 donation for the expansion project, one of the largest contributions thus far provided to the Lincoln Children’s Zoo.
"It's just been a great part of our community for many years, and now this gives us the ability to have the zoo be a year-round attraction," said local Scheels team leader Louie Sikich.
The donation is the second-largest sum provided by the foundation. In 2014, it donated $500,000 to City Impact for a gym and fitness center at the faith-based nonprofit's new facility, at 1035 N. 33rd St. Ground recently broke on the project.
Construction is well underway at the Lincoln Children's Zoo, where new exhibits featuring new animals are expected to open by spring 2019.
The expansion will make room for exhibits featuring giraffes, spider monkeys and tigers, at 1222 S. 27th St. The Scheels donation targets Lincoln students who will get the opportunity to learn about those animals and the 400-plus others already at the zoo.
"One thing that really caught our attention was the education and conservation center that they'll be working with Lincoln Public Schools, where they'll have enhanced programs and laboratories that students can now come to the zoo for a one-location building and just expand their educations," Sikich said. "We just feel that's very important as being community partners to give back and improve the education of the youth."
Chapo seconded that, saying that after 20 years of collaboration with LPS, students deserve an upgrade from the portable units that make up the Zoo School, as it’s commonly known, noting that they’ll no longer have to walk outside to use the nearest restroom. As part of the expansion, the zoo will have new laboratories — and lavatories — dedicated to the Zoo School.
With this donation, Lincoln Children’s Zoo has cleared $15.5 million of its $20 million fundraising goal.
"We're very encouraged,” Chapo said. “I love getting up every morning, because we've got a great community that loves their zoo."