FAQs about the Domes

What’s been done to address issues at the Domes?
Since 2013, County teams have been carefully monitoring the structure, and during 2014 they manually removed all loose concrete. In 2015 County engineers and staff at the Domes began working on ways to protect both public safety and growing conditions for plants within the Domes. The volume of fallen concrete they observed led to the closure of the Domes in January 2016. This was to ensure public safety while the engineers completed their work. Starting with the Show Dome, the County has installed wire mesh netting in each of the three Domes to catch any pieces of falling concrete. The netting will protect all occupants while maintaining the ‘Domes experience’ to the greatest extent possible. Work is completed in all three Domes – ahead of schedule – allowing the entire facility to re-open on October 29, 2016. For more information, please visit 2016 Safety Measures.
Mesh being installed in Show Dome March 2016
Mesh being installed in Show Dome, March 2016
How much did it cost to complete the short-term solution for the Domes?
Cost for the netting safety solution was $834,000, which included the planning and testing to determine the best solution to falling concrete, as well as the acquisition of the materials and installation and time spent managing the project. Keep in mind that this work did not repair any of the structural or other issues with the Domes; it was intended solely to improve the safety of the facility for visitors and workers.
How much would it cost to actually fix the Domes?
While no specific plan has been developed, in the 2016, estimates ranged from $16 million to replace broken windows and repair and recoat the concrete frame to $64 million to replace the entire concrete frame and window systems. All estimates include meeting ADA requirements. In addition, the National Trust for Historic Preservation conducted a peer review of earlier work and proposed replacing broken windows, as well as all pressure caps, at an estimated cost of $18.6 million (see the May 3, 2017 Domes Task Force Minutes for peer report and presentation). Visit What Would “Fixing” the Domes Cost? for more details.
What type of structure are the Domes? Can the concrete be removed and replaced?
The Dome structures are made of two integral layers: a concrete frame that serves as a base layer and an aluminum frame over the concrete that holds the glass in place. The two layers are connected by steel plates built into the concrete frames that attach to connector hubs in the aluminum frames. The concrete frame directly supports the aluminum and glass frame; the aluminum frame is not self-supporting. The only way to remove the concrete would be to dismantle each Dome, removing and storing the plant collections during construction, and replace the entire two-layer concrete and aluminum framing system. While the concrete frame structure is not failing, the constant leakage from the windows is causing the surface to age and the edges at the connector plates to spall or chip, leading to the falling concrete observed inside each Dome. Please refer to the January 2015 GRAEF report for a complete description of the situation. To learn more about the Domes construction, visit the Friends of the Domes website to watch a video that shows how the Domes were built.
The concrete frame supporting the aluminum frame and windows (view from inside the Domes; the concrete frame is in the foreground; the aluminum and glass frame can be seen beyond the concrete)
concrete frame is in the foreground; the aluminum and glass frame can be seen beyond the concrete 
The glass and aluminum frame sitting atop the concrete frame (view from outside the Domes; the aluminum frame holding the glass is in front; the concrete supporting frame is visible through the glass)
the concrete supporting frame is visible through the glass
What will happen to the Domes, and how can I be involved?
The Domes Conservatory at Mitchell Park is an icon on the Milwaukee skyline. The current Domes replaced a Victorian Conservatory that was demolished in 1955 because it was no longer safe and was deemed too expensive to repair. With the current structure in need of major maintenance, it’s an appropriate time for the Milwaukee County community to come together to ask, “What Next?” Should the Domes be reconstructed as they are, replaced with a modern dome system, or is it time for a new vision?
Photo courtesy of GRAEF Photo courtesy of GRAEF
Photo courtesy of GRAEF Photo courtesy of GRAEF

The County Executive proposed and the County Board agreed to convene a Task Force composed of community stakeholders to guide this public process and to make recommendations regarding the future of the Conservatory. (See What Happens Next: Planning for the Future of the Domes for more information.)

 

What is annual attendance at the Domes?

Milwaukee County residents receive free admission on Mondays at the Domes, as do Friends of the Domes, attendees at private events held at the Domes and other special guests. Keep in mind that during the last three years, some or all of the Domes have been closed as safety measures were underway.

 

Paid Admission

Free Admission

Total Admission

2016

54,600

37,443

92,043

2015

206,973

25,109

232,082

2014

102,348

112,024

214,372

2013

112,531

84,699

197,230

 

For more details on recent attendance at the Domes, please click here.

 

How much money do the Domes make each year?
The Domes run an operating deficit averaging $630,000 per year, not including capital investments made in the facility. The County’s Audit Division is currently evaluating the Domes finances, and their report will be published here when it becomes available later in the year.

 


 

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