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Fresno aquarium breaks ground, but completed project years away

Groundbreaking for phase one of Fresno aquarium project

Fresno aquarium executive director Tom Lang explains why the San Joaquin River bluff is the best location for the planned freshwater and saltwater aquarium. The group held a groundbreaking on Wednesday, May 25, 2016.
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Fresno aquarium executive director Tom Lang explains why the San Joaquin River bluff is the best location for the planned freshwater and saltwater aquarium. The group held a groundbreaking on Wednesday, May 25, 2016.

Aquarius Aquarium Institute broke ground Wednesday morning to mark what it hopes is just the first small step toward building the long-promised Fresno aquarium overlooking the San Joaquin River.

Invited guests and media gathered at a grassy field off Highway 99 near Herndon Avenue and Parkway Drive to commemorate the start of construction of a basement that will house an aquaculture operation where the institute hopes to raise freshwater and saltwater fish.

But Executive Director Tom Lang acknowledged that the institute still doesn’t have the money to build more than the basement, and that the full aquarium project is still years from completion. Lang has been promoting the project for well over a decade.

While the institute has raised $268,200 for the Aquaculture Building and its infrastructure, the institute still needs to raise $461,800 to complete construction. As for the finished aquarium project, Lang estimated it will cost between $10 and $15 million.

“We have enough to build the shell of the building, but we still have to fill it,” Lang said. “It’s important to start so we can have fish to raise.” Lang said he hopes Wednesday’s groundbreaking will encourage people with the means to support the project.

Roy Jura and his wife, Betty, an elderly couple nearing their 66th anniversary, donated the land back in 2006. But due to the slow rate of fundraising, the institute could not break ground on any part of it until now.

Roy Jura said the Fresno aquarium will never be like Monterey Bay Aquarium, but it will help educate the many San Joaquin Valley children who never get to see the ocean.

Eileen Smith, the daughter of Tom and Aletha Lang, said the institute hosts a “Run for the Reef” 5K on Earth Day weekend in Riverpark to raise funds and promote health in the Valley, as well as a poker night in April and a Fourth of July fireworks stand near the Dante Club. The institute also sells small and large concrete blocks, for $100 and $200 respectively.

Lang said the basement that will be built “will serve a function on its own, totally independent from other buildings. It is an aquarium for raising fish. I hope it will be an inspiration for others to give more.”

JoAnna Kroeker: 559-441-6247, @jobethkroeker

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