SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Two Sioux Falls city councilors want to slow the process down on decisions regarding the future of the Brockhouse taxidermy animal collection and the Delbridge Museum of Natural History at the Great Plains Zoo.
More options and more cost estimates is what city council members Alex Jensen and Curt Soehl called for while discussing the topic with KELOLAND’s Dan Santella on this week’s Inside KELOLAND. KELOLAND Digital Reporter Rae Yost also spoke with Santella about the developments in the story since the mid-August announcement. You can watch the segments in the videos attached above.
“We’re going to take a step back, we’re going to slow things down,” Jensen said. “We’re going to have a methodical approach. We own the collection as the city of Sioux Falls and we should manage it properly.”
Both Jensen and Soehl said the topic of the future of the animal collection has led to a flurry of messages from people in the community ever since city and zoo officials announced the display would be closed Aug. 17 after test results showed roughly 80% of the mounts tested positive for arsenic.
Soehl said some of the animals might be beyond repair, but he’d like to hear more information for experts in the taxidermy field including a breakdown on each animal for repair costs and display costs.
“We don’t have to be in a hurry,” Soehl said. “I personally think it’s a collection that will be worth saving and displaying somehow in the city of Sioux Falls. A lot of different ideas are being floated around. Nobody knows what it’s going to cost until we get some cost estimates back.”
During an informational meeting with city council members on Sept. 5, zoo and city officials said upgrades to the current space of the Delbridge Museum would cost an estimated $3.4 to $4.2 million, without adding costs of mount repair or restoration.
Officials also said it would cost about $13 million to build a new 16,000-square-foot facility and doesn’t include repair or restoration costs to the more than 150 animal collection.
Zoo and city officials, including Mayor Paul TenHaken, have recommended the collection be declared a surplus and be decommissioned, which requires city council approval. A city park and recreation board meeting to discuss supporting the surplus motion scheduled for Sept. 6 was canceled. Jensen said he believes the surplus vote scheduled for a Sept. 19 city council meeting might not happen.
“I think a lot of the city council wants to step back and look at all the different options,” Jensen said. “Look for storage options on storing them properly and look for a long term solution to proudly display these animals within the city of Sioux Falls.”
Both Jensen and Soehl suggested one option could be displaying some of the animals in various locations across the city. Soehl said a new natural history museum is a great idea, but questioned where funding would come for that.
Soehl suggested fundraisers for local schools that would “adopt an animal” and then display it at a local school.
“Everything is on the table at this point,” Soehl said. “Maybe this thing ends up in the city wide vote again. I’m not opposed to do that to get the real sentiment of the people of Sioux Falls, but we need some cost estimates and right now, we don’t have those.”
The city issued $1.9 million in bonds for the space for Delbridge back in the 1980s
Zoo officials said there have been 15 visits by a taxidermist since 2009. Maintenance has included $2,500 for a fiberglass patch reconstruction of a giraffe in 2021.
Jensen also supported putting costs associated with the future of the collection to a public vote. He said a possible new city arts coordinator position that might get added to the 2024 budget could help with dealing with restoring the collection.
“I think from the city’s perspective, we own these animals and we need to maintain them in a proper way and make them flourish,” Jensen said. “Great things take time. We’re going to shut it down for a while. We’re going to take time to manage our collection.”