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Update On Challenges Facing The Milwaukee County Domes

Brian Moore

To many who know them, the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory's beehive-shaped glass structures are simply called "The Domes."

For decades, grade-schoolers on field trips have traipsed wide-eyed through The Domes, especially the Tropical Dome, which takes visitors to the rainforest. Others anticipate every new installation in the Floral Show Dome.

READ: The Origins Of Milwaukee’s Mitchell Park Domes

On Tuesday, Nikki Todd, with Milwaukee County's Grants & Special Projects office, painted a bleak forecast for the conservatory. "The useful life of the original structure is clearly deteriorated, so we need to figure out how long that building can truly stand, and that, of course, is a technical review," Todd said in an update to supervisors on the Parks, Energy and Environment Committee.

The structures have been chronically in need of maintenance. But concerns escalated in 2016 when a piece of concrete fell inside the Desert Dome. Soon after, the County Board created a task force. In 2019, it proposed a $66 million rehabilitation plan to be achieved over a 10-year period. Planned amenities included classroom space and a restaurant with outdoor seating.

READ: Proposed Plan Restores The Mitchell Park Domes And The Green Space Surrounding It

The Parks, Energy and Environment Committee hadn’t discussed The Domes since the task force laid out its recommendations.

Nikki Todd told county supervisors Tuesday that the task force budget was unrealistically low. “Those cost estimates actually expired just three months after the task force delivered its final plan, so vendors who would eventually do the work would never accept estimates that were outdated,” Todd said.

Todd said an internal project team is now working toward a realistic Domes plan. She promised consistent updates, following a timeline.

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Nikki Todd (center right) presented the project team's goal to provide a path forward for The Domes during Tuesday's Parks, Energy and Environment Committee meeting . Note: DAS will also be represented by its Procurement Division, Office of Performance, Strategy & Budget, and its Risk Management Division.

Todd said county residents would have the opportunity to weigh in before the plan is finalized. Initially, the project team called for informing the public about the final plan.

“It has us going into this phase of the project around next summer of 2022, where we will have decisions made and hopefully with pretty widespread agreements because we’ve been able to transparently share the information and the hard decisions that might come along the way,” Todd explained.

The county committee didn’t offer an opportunity for public comments during the meeting. But Jeremy Ebersole submitted one on behalf of a group called the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance.

Ebersole called The Domes an internationally unique treasure. He urged the parks committee to preserve the conservatory and develop the surrounding Mitchell Park area for the economic, equity, and cultural benefits they could provide for decades to come.

Susan Bence entered broadcasting in an untraditional way. After years of avid public radio listening, Susan returned to school and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She interned for WUWM News and worked with the Lake Effect team, before being hired full-time as a WUWM News reporter / producer.
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