Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 09:32 am
A $1 million repair plan announced by Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele on Monday afternoon would reopen the Show Dome at the Mitchell Park Conservatory by May 1.
The county already allocated $500,000 from its Debt Service Reserve Fund for repairs and long-term planning at the domes in September 2015, but Abele and county facilities management director Jeremy Theis said an additional $500,000 is being sought from the county board to complete repairs that would allow all three of the domes to reopen.
“In order to complete the project, we’re certain at this point it’s going to be more than $500,000,” Theis said.
All three of the domes at the Mitchell Park Conservatory have been closed since Feb. 5, a week after a piece of concrete casting fell and prompted county officials to close the park’s Arid Dome.
Three weeks ago, Abele said it could cost up to $75 million to replace the domes’ crumbling steel and concrete frames.
The county is exploring a plan to wrap thousands of concrete-cast joints in the domes’ structures in wire mesh netting that will prevent more concrete from falling. Theis said another option — wrapping them with a canvas-like material — is still being considered and no start-date has been set for repairs.
The repair work to the Domes could provide a temporary fix lasting about five to six years, Abele said, which would give the community time to debate and consider a long-term plan for the future of the Domes.
“Ultimately we are looking for a long term solution,” he said.
Theis and Abele said the $500,000 already allocated for repairs is likely enough to fix the Show Dome by May 1. The majority of the $500,000 being sought would be spent on repairs for the Arid Dome and Tropical Dome, which require a specialized lift to repair. A portion of that money would also go toward hiring consultants to advise county leaders on a long-term solution.
Dozens of weddings that had been scheduled at the domes have been postponed, but Domes director Sandy Folaron is optimistic the conservatory will again host brides and grooms by May 1.
“If the Show Dome is open, (weddings) will happen,” Folaron said. “We can stage them in the Show Dome … So I’m sure that they’re not going to be as completely thrilled — getting one out of three domes — but it still is the dome with the flowers and it still is one of the key reasons brides choose the domes to stage their weddings.”
Once the Show Dome is reopened, Abele estimated it could be another 6-8 weeks before the Arid Dome and Tropical Dome are reopened.
Milwaukee County Board Chairman Theodore Lipscomb issued a statement Monday afternoon criticizing the Abele administration’s response to the Domes closure.
“The Administration did not act, and now we have chunks of concrete falling from the structures,” Lipscomb said. “This Administration has shown a callous disregard of our parks, and the Domes are just one example.”
On Feb. 8, Abele spokesperson Melissa Baldauff blamed the domes’ deterioration on what she called an inherited mess of deferred maintenance.
“Effective managers understand that observing a problem doesn’t solve it, as anyone who’s ever been a successful leader can attest to,” Baldauff said. “That’s why instead of pointing fingers at previous county executives and previous county boards from which he inherited a mess, Chris Abele has spent five years catching up on deferred maintenance in Milwaukee County.”
Documents obtained from the county earlier this month indicate the domes run an average annual deficit of more than $900,000 despite increased attendance and attempts to boost revenue in recent years.
The request for additional funding has been submitted to the county board. The board could chose to approve the $500,000 request at a special meeting on Wednesday.
A public hearing to discuss the future of the Mitchell Park Conservatory will be held on Feb. 24 at 6 p.m. in the greenhouse complex on the east side of the domes.