Butterfly House plans major aquarium expansion

Feb. 11, 2019

The Butterfly House & Aquarium is planning a significant expansion of what will be the Dakota Aquarium, adding many more exhibits to the popular attraction.

The addition will more than double the size of the building at Sertoma Park, with a focus on enhancing the aquatic exhibits, which have helped grow attendance significantly since they were added in 2011.

A $7.5 million capital campaign is about half-way toward its goal, leaders of the organization announced at a fundraiser Friday night. The lead gift was given by Michael and Kendra Zuercher.

“We’ve enjoyed the Butterfly House & Aquarium for years with our kids. It not only provides an experience unique to the region but also offers ways to expose children to science in a very engaging way,” said Michael Zuercher, founder of Zuercher Technologies, a provider of public-safety software.

“We’re excited for the chance to support the organization as it begins this next phase, which will further grow its already important impact on the quality of life in Sioux Falls.”

The Butterfly House, which opened in 2002, also will be improved with an updated waterfall and misting system, new gazebo and educational displays, and a renovated pond.

The Dakota Aquarium will include several unique spaces:

  • An exploration station, where kids will encounter larger-than-life butterfly cycles, coral reefs and tide pools.
  • The Coastal Seas Gallery, a renovated Pacific Tide pool and new Tropical Tide pool, where visitors can reach in and connect with sea stars, sea urchins and other tidal creatures.
  • The Shallow Seas Gallery, home to coral reefs, anemones and other marine life.
  • The Lagoonal Seas Gallery, featuring octopus, the stingray touch pool and a kid-size underwater tunnel.
  • The Lagoonal Reef Exhibit, with mangroves, corals, reef fishes and stingrays in a unique open-top aquarium with educational dive shows and feedings.
  • An interactive and expanded classroom, connecting land and sea with an emphasis on conservation. Watershed tables will demonstrate the impact of pollution on streams and rivers.

The need for more capacity is driving the expansion. Since 2010, attendance has grown by 90 percent, some field trips have been turned away, and staff are squeezed into limited office space.

As this winter has shown yet again, there’s a need for year-round attractions in Sioux Falls, and the expanded aquarium will provide that, Mayor Paul TenHaken said at the project’s announcement.

“We have a real workforce challenge in our community,” he added. “So anything we can do to invest in attractions like the Butterfly House to help us attract and retain families is really important.”

The Dakota Aquarium is in the middle of the capital campaign, which is scheduled to run through May 2020. The plan is to start construction on office and storage space this year, begin construction of the aquarium next summer and be ready to open the entire facility by the end of 2021.

The Butterfly House began as a service project of the Sioux Falls Noon Sertoma Club and has been financially self-sustaining since 2012. It’s now independent of the club and is the only self-sustaining nonprofit attraction in Sioux Falls, receiving no funding from the city, state, Sertoma Club or Sioux Empire United Way.

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Butterfly House plans major aquarium expansion

The Butterfly House & Aquarium is planning a significant expansion of what will be the Dakota Aquarium, adding many more exhibits to the popular attraction.

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