Friends of the Domes President Roger Krawiecki called the Mitchell Park Domes a "living landmark" and declared "this is not a dying conservatory" at a public hearing Wednesday night.
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The Mitchell Park Domes[/caption]
"We need to focus on getting the Domes open and then we can start planning for the future," Krawiecki said.
Friends of the Domes
is a nonprofit that invests in upgrades and repairs at the conservatory.
More than 250 people attended the public hearing at the Mitchell Park Conservatory greenhouse to voice their opinions regarding repair options and the Domes' long-term future before the county board.
Krawiecki urged the county board to begin either planning "the full repair of our facility or investing in a new conservatory that can take us into the future."
Many of those who spoke, including a 12-year-old boy named Arthur Capps, argued the domes should be preserved, but others were open to the idea of investing in a new conservatory structure.
"There are things at the Domes that many of us would never see if it wasn't here," Capps said. "The Domes are as important as the Milwaukee Zoo. It's like the zoo, except for plants. We need the Domes."
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County Board members hear public testimony in the greenhouse complex at the Mitchell Park Conservatory on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016.[/caption]
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, County Executive Chris Abele estimated it could cost between $65 and $75 million to fully renovate the domes’ aging aluminum, glass and concrete frames. At the public hearing, county facilities management director Jeremy Theis said a more accurate estimate would be between $60 and $71 million for full renovation, "but that could fluctuate."
A $1 million repair plan
announced by county officials Monday aims to reopen the Show Dome by May 1. Once the Show Dome is reopened, Abele estimated it could be another 6-8 weeks before the Arid Dome and Tropical Dome are reopened.
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 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.
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A crowd of more than 250 gathered before the county board to voice their opinions about short- and long-term options for the Mitchell Park Domes.[/caption]
One option being explored involves wrapping 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 on Monday, which would give the community time to debate and consider a long-term plan for the future of the Domes.
Abele was not present at the public hearing Wednesday. An Abele spokesperson said he was at a National Board of Governors meeting for Boys and Girls Clubs of America.
Several speakers, including County board Chairman Theodore Lipscomb, criticized Abele for not attending and some voiced support for Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee), who is running against Abele for county executive on the April ballot.
Domes director Sandy Folaron urged the public and the county board to "put politics out of it" and "put all of our options on the table for discussion."
Parks Director John Dargle said the Domes are "naturally showing the effects of the ravages of time" and that "anything short of full repair or complete replacement would lead to greater costs in the future."
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.