MILWAUKEE -- Milwaukee County officials say the hope is that all three of the Mitchell Park Domes will reopen by year's end -- but it is going to take time, and a lot of money.
The Arid (desert) Dome was closed on January 29th -- after a fallen chunk of concrete was discovered. On February 5th, officials said all three Domes would be closed for the weekend due to safety concerns.
Then, we learned all three Domes would remain closed indefinitely.
Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele said during a news conference on Monday afternoon, February 22nd that there is a plan in place to reopen the "Show Dome" by May 1st.
Efforts to fix the Domes will start in the Show Dome because it is the most accessible and most used of the Domes.
The "fix" could give visitors another five to six years at the Domes.
Abele said engineers have considered a wide range of options to protect the public at the Domes. Their recommendation, which will be employed at the Show Dome first, is to wrap the connections with protective material.
Abele said there is already money to start and finish the Show Dome. It's the other two that could pose a challenge.
"This is has been identified as the most effective way to protect visitors and workers but also maintain lights. The whole value and premise of the Domes is they let natural light in -- and we want to make sure that`s still the case," Abele said.
The wrapping would capture any loose material before it can fall or pose a danger. Abele said the falling concrete does not impact the structural integrity of the Domes. It's a safety hazard given the height of the Domes.
There are thousands of those "connections" that will be wrapped with the mesh-type wire.
The exact product that will be utilized is still being determined.
"You're looking at probably smaller than an eighth of an inch square where we can see what's going on with the structure, but at the same time it's going to allow the concrete to breathe," Jeremy Theis, Milwaukee County facilities manager said.
Once the work at the Show Dome is complete, similar repairs will be conducted in the Arid Dome and Tropical Dome. They will likely open three to four months after the Show Dome opens to the public.
The funding already allocated for repairs at the Domes is not sufficient to repair all three Domes. Because of that, Abele will be submitting a request to the Milwaukee County Board on Wednesday, February 24th calling for an additional $500,000 to complete the work and safely reopen all the Domes.
"There's $5.2 million budgeted for 2016 for things like this that come up. So we'll be requesting $500,000 be transferred from the appropriation for contingencies to the capital project for Dome repairs," said Steve Kreklow, Milwaukee County budget director.
The Arid Dome and Tropical Dome are apparently more difficult to access. But work in the Show Dome should give engineers insight into how to more easily repair the second and third Domes.
Dozens of events have been cancelled since the Domes have closed -- and many more will be cancelled before the reopen date of May 1st. That means a huge loss of revenue for the county.
"This unfortunately happened during our biggest revenue-generating semester, which is the Train Show, so we're taking a bit of hit," said Sandy Folaron, Director of the Mitchell Park Domes.
If the additional $500,000 is approved by the Milwaukee County Board, repairs at the other two Domes would follow repairs at the Show Dome.
Meanwhile, County officials hope to gauge from the public whether a long-term solution is desired.
"It's not my money -- it's your money, and we want to make sure we have a good public discussion," Abele said.
Milwaukee County Board Chairman Theo Lipscomb is critical of the plan announced Monday. He is encouraging people to come to a public hearing at the annex greenhouse adjacent to the Domes Wednesday night, February 24th at 6:00 p.m.
Lipscomb released the following statement to FOX6 News:
The Committee of the Whole of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing on the future of the Domes at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, February 24th at the annex greenhouse adjacent to the Domes.
“We want to engage the community in a conversation on the closure of the Domes, and we invite County Executive Chris Abele and Parks Director John Dargle to the table to present their views on the immediate and long-term future of these Milwaukee County treasures,” said Milwaukee County Board Chairman Theodore Lipscomb, Sr. “We want to have an open and transparent discussion on the future of the Domes.”
We are just receiving initial details of their short-term plan to re-open one Dome, and the administration’s long-term plan for all three still is unclear.
Lipscomb invites the public to hear directly from the county executive on his calculation that rehabilitation of the Domes could cost $70 million.
Lipscomb said the Domes are the most demonstrable current example of the effects of deferred maintenance on our parks. He added that the board acted to provide $500,000 in 2015 for netting for public safety.
“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.”
In addition, the board in July of 2015 authorized an expenditure of $5 million for parks infrastructure projects not eligible for general obligation bond funding. The executive vetoed the measure, calling the expenditure “flippant and irresponsible.” The board overrode the veto and in a subsequent September action allocated $500,000 from that appropriation to the Domes. The county executive refused to sign that measure.
“The executive apparently thinks it is ‘flippant and irresponsible’ to protect our parks,” Lipscomb said. “It will be interesting to hear from the public whether they agree.”
Subsequent to the public hearing, the board’s Committee on Parks, Energy and the Environment will meet on March 8th in order to receive an action report from the administration on the Domes.