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December 14, 2017 10:00 PM

Butterfly House And Aquarium Is Staying Put

A popular spot for families in Sioux Falls is hoping to undergo some big changes, but not the changes you may have been expecting. 

This spring, the Butterfly House and Aquarium announced plans to move out of Sertoma Park and construct a new building at a new location. The move was contingent on the Outdoor Campus purchasing its current facility. That purchase is no longer happening. Now the Butterfly House and Aquarium is hoping for a wave of support for expansion at its current spot. 

86,000 guests will float through the Butterfly House and Aquarium this year. Alexa Nilsson and her family lucked out during their visit and caught a feeding frenzy. 

"We had never seen that before. It was just a cool thing to see how they actually feed them," Nilsson said. 

Attendance here has doubled since adding aquariums in 2011. That inspired recent negotiations with the Outdoor Campus and South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks. The state was planning to buy the building so the Butterfly House and Aquarium could move to a bigger spot. CEO Audrey Willard says those plans have now been sunk. 

"Unfortunately the state decided they couldn't purchase the building because of budgetary concerns and so we are focused on staying here and expanding now," Willard said. 

Most of the new exhibits are aquarium-related. From a new discovery area to a moon jellyfish touch pool, there are fresh features just opening up or on the way. 

"We also have a view into our Water Lab now so you can take a look at see our aquarist working, taking care of the jellyfish and getting our food ready to go," Willard said. 

But the dream for this place is literally much larger. No plans are finalized yet, but Willard says the hope is to raise $4 million to add aquariums that are 20-to-75,000 gallons in size. Their biggest one right now is only 2,500 gallons. 

"Those are pretty pricy. Those can be anywhere from $500,000 to a million for just one exhibit. When you get to be the bigger exhibits where you have the sharks and stingrays and sea turtles. We definitely want to try and get one of those in our bigger building," Willard said. 

While the Butterfly House and Aquarium will now be staying put, it still hopes to expand but it needs to figure out how it fits in with the popular Sertoma Park and Outdoor Campus nearby.

Over the next eight months, Willard and her staff will work with the City of Sioux Falls and the State of South Dakota to come up with a master plan.

"And then we'll be applying for the Chamber Community Appeals in August. Capital campaign will go through 2021 and then we'll start construction after that," Willard said. 

It's welcome news for these guests. Nilsson, a Sioux Falls resident, says the facility is unique in the state and she'd love to see it grow. 

"You know instead of having to drive three hours to Omaha or four hours up to Minneapolis, something that's more central so that more people from South Dakota can come here and see those types of things," Nilsson said. 

"It would help our local community learn more about the ocean but also draw in visitors and get Sioux Falls to be a stop along the way to the Black Hills or really create a destination in and of itself," Willard said. 

If you'd like to help the Butterfly House and Aquarium right now, it's raising money for it's Ocean In Motion program. The facility needs a vehicle that can transport it's mobile touch pool so it can visit schools in the area. 

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