The province has announced it will invest $4.5 million towards a new polar bear conservation centre at the Assiniboine Park Zoo.

The facility has been without the animals since Debby the polar bear died in late 2008.

The new International Polar Bear Conservation Centre will house about six or seven orphaned polar bear cubs and will also be a place for research. Officials said much of the work with cubs will be done away from public viewing, but in a few years, people will get the chance to see adult polar bears.

The centre will be built in the enclosure set aside for polar bears and black bears, but the old enclosures will be improved so they're larger and upgraded to meet more recent provincial standards.

"It's part of an overall program to ensure the polar bear is an integral part of the Manitoba existence, a part of the Manitoba quality of life. And we want to do that with our international partners. We want to make Manitoba the polar bear capital, research centre of the world and then share our knowledge," said Premier Greg Selinger.

More than $26 million will also go towards establishing an arctic exhibit, said the province.

The new exhibit, with room for several adult polar bears, will be built west of the polar bear conservation centre. The exhibit will be large enough that tundra buggy tours may be a possibility, said officials.

"The planning stages are well underway, but it will take a little bit of time to finish off the planning," said Gordon Glover with the Assiniboine Park Zoo.

The renovations on the polar bear centre are scheduled to start this month and are slated to be finished by the end of 2010. A timeline for the new exhibit space has not yet been released.

- with a report from CTV's Jon Hendricks