April 2024

Kansas City Zoo & Aquarium

The Kansas City Zoo & Aquarium, a jewel nestled within the heart of Kansas City, stood as a testament to the longstanding partnership between JE Dunn Construction and the local community. Over the years, JE Dunn had woven its expertise into the fabric of the zoo’s development, from the river otter exhibit to the grand penguin and elephant exhibits, each project evidence of an ongoing commitment to enhancing the visitor experience.

The newest addition, the Sobela Ocean Aquarium, was the culmination of a decade-long dream for Kansas City Zoo leadership. The idea was sparked after the ribbon cutting for the Penguin Exhibit, and over the years, it evolved into a monumental undertaking that would redefine the landscape of the zoo.

From the outset, challenges loomed at every turn. Budget constraints threatened to derail the project before it even began, requiring swift and decisive action to realign expectations without compromising on guest experience or quality. With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the landscape shifted once more, as procurement timelines and material availability became unpredictable, adding layers of complexity to an already intricate process.

Yet, armed with determination and a meticulous eye for detail, the JE Dunn team pressed forward. Immersing themselves in the world of aquarium construction, they learned from aquatic experts, state-of-the-art building coordination modeling, and the best-skilled craftsmen and women in the industry. Every aspect of the project was precisely planned, from the placement of life support piping to the installation of acrylic panels, ensuring that each element seamlessly integrated into the grand design.

As construction progressed, the team faced new hurdles, from navigating the intricacies of waterproofing the tanks to coordinating with live animal exhibits. They met each challenge head-on, with a spirit of collaboration and a commitment to excellence guiding their every move.

Finally, as the day of the grand opening approached, a sense of anticipation filled the air. The JE Dunn team stood back, marveling at the culmination of years of hard work and dedication. For Robert Lee and Susan Schaefer, whose names were synonymous with the project, it was a moment of pride as they witnessed the public’s awe at what they had created.

“I would be lying if I said there weren’t days that I wouldn’t just stop for a while and watch the keepers taking care of the animals or watch the sharks swim around,” Lee said. “I think that’s probably my favorite spot in the entire building: the main viewing window of the shark tank.”

For visitors, stepping into the Sobela Ocean Aquarium is like embarking on an underwater adventure. From the majestic shark tank to the vibrant coral reefs, every exhibit is a tribute to the beauty and diversity of marine life. The exhibit includes dimly lit tunnels surrounded by schools of fish and graceful sea creatures, taking guests on an exploration under the sea.

“It was more than just a building; it was a testament to the power of collaboration, creativity, and community spirit,” Schaefer said. “It’s a reminder that with dedication and determination, anything is possible. We are forever grateful to the Kansas City Zoo and Aquarium for the opportunity to create such a magnificent facility for our community.”