Minnesota Zoo Russia’s Grizzly Coast Exhibit



Gephart Electric provided design/assist services for the construction of the Minnesota Zoo’s $24 million exhibit, Russia’s Grizzly Coast.


With the deadline set to coincide with the Minnesota Zoo’s 30th anniversary, Russia’s Grizzly Coast was the zoo’s largest exhibit initiative since opening in 1978, as well as the first major exhibit ever developed to feature the animals and wilderness of the Russian Far East. Needless to say, there was a lot riding on the exhibit’s successful completion.

Thorough reviewing of plans and designs with the owner, engineer, and architect during the preplanning and coordination phases to help the client finalize the electrical and communications systems.

Since the expansive exhibit consisted of unique, custom-engineered landscape and geological features, including a lava tube, sea cave, geysers, and bubbling mud-pots, planning presented challenges unlike anything encountered in traditional projects.

During this entire project, we also had to minimize disturbances to the zoo’s patrons and inhabitants – even while completing the difficult task of relocating the zoo’s telecommunications, copper, and fiber infrastructure.


Due to the tight timeline and the exhibit’s dynamic nature, we had to start the project before designs were completed. Our flexibility and problem-solving abilities made it possible for our teams to make major changes on the fly, with our on-site leadership ensuring that changes were implemented correctly.

We also created several custom solutions, including an installation of heated shotcrete rock formations for the bears to lie on. We used ambient air temperature sensors, controller/contactors, and heat trace cable embedded into the rock formations so that the rocks didn’t get too hot. We also alternated the heating so the bears wouldn’t rest in the same place, but would instead move around, providing a more interesting exhibit for zoo patrons. In addition, we designed and constructed a custom light fixture trolley assembly to allow maintenance of all lighting systems for the otter holding tanks.

Finally, our team installed the control wiring to monitor and regulate the life support systems for the exhibit. This included fiberglass tanks, towers and specialty items such as pressurized gravel filters, fractionators, ozone generation equipment, and air preparation systems to maintain the optimum environment for the animals.


After 23 months, Gephart successfully completed the project on schedule, in May of 2008. The exhibit received top honors in the Exhibit Design and Marketing Excellence categories from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), and has helped increase zoo attendance to record-setting levels.


  • Lighting: Accent, Flood, Landscape, & Outdoor
  • Lighting and Dimming Systems
  • Electrical Distribution System
  • Low-Voltage Systems Voice/Data Fiber Systems
  • Distributed PA Systems
  • Audio/Visual Systems
  • HVAC Control
  • Security & Surveillance
  • Emergency Generator & Power System
  • Emergency Systems
  • Fire Alarm
"We had a very challenging project - building a new, utility intensive exhibit in the middle of an operating zoo. Gephart was on board from the beginning: from helping the design team to dial in the right products and reign in the costs, to working with the entire construction team and Zoo staff to maximize efficiencies and make sure that we had what we needed, where we needed it. They were a real pleasure to work with at all levels of the organization- very professional."
Ken Kornack, Director of Capital Projects, MN Zoo