The Milwaukee County Board conceived the Mitchell Park Domes Task Force in March of 2016 for the express purpose of developing a comprehensive long-term plan and recommendation for the future of Milwaukee’s beloved Domes. That recommendation was due “no later” than September 2016.

The Domes Task Force (DTF) showed as much respect for the County Board’s authority as any other governmental body, and scheduled its first meeting for October 12, 2016. Though the inexperienced DTF got off to a slow start, over the course of two months, the eleven members quickly learned what a meeting is and how the Milwaukee County’s fiscal situation compares to Detroit.

With clear eyes, full hearts, and a cursory understanding of Robert’s Rules of Order, the DTF met again on Wednesday to consider their options for repairing or replacing the crown jewel of Milwaukee’s emerald necklace. The Domes pose unique maintenance challenges because they are the only conoidal glass domes in the world. Unlike a spherical geodesic dome that can support its own weight, the unique beehive-shape of the Domes requires significant structural support and maintenance.

Wednesday’s meeting was dominated by $46,400 worth of slideshow presentations from the County’s architectural consultant, GRaEF, which presented the following five options to the task force. All options include the cost of necessary maintenance, upgrades to improve access for visitors with disabilities, and a redesigned plant layout:

Option 1 – Replace Only Broken Glass Panes
Cost – $14 million
Estimated Life – 5-10 years
Ongoing Maintenance Costs – High

Option 2 – Replace All Glass Panes
Cost – $38 million
Estimated Life – 15-20 years
Ongoing Maintenance Costs – High

Option 3 – Replace Entire Aluminum and Glass Facade
Cost – $47 million
Estimated Life – 25-30 years
Ongoing Maintenance Costs – High

Option 4 – Replace Facade with Self-Supporting Aluminum and Glass Facade
Cost – $54 million
Estimated Life – 25-30 years
Ongoing Maintenance Costs – High

Option 5 – Replace Conoidal Facade with Aluminum and Glass Geodesic Dome
Cost – $50 million
Estimated Life – 50 years
Ongoing Maintenance Costs – Normal

Options 1-4 would retain the historic conoidal shape of the Domes, while Option 5 would replace it with a geodesic sphere that is 10-15 feet shorter. On paper, Option 5 may seem like the best long-term investment, but task force member Dawn McCarthy warned that the option to scrap the unique shape of the Domes does not consider the incalculable costs of losing the landmark’s iconic stature and eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places. Therein lies the ultimate conflict.

Faced with a clear choice to move forward, the DTF responded with a crippling existential crisis. DTF Chairman, Bill Lynch, and many task force members seemed legitimately confused about the role of the task force generally, despite the County Board’s clear directive to make a comprehensive long-term plan for the Domes. Important questions that were considered included: “Where are we?” “What are we aspiring to?” “Where’s the vision?” “Who’s on first?”

Ultimately and mercifully, the DTF tabled any decision-making until its next meeting, which is scheduled for January 25th at 5:30 p.m. at the Mitchell Park Domes.

About The Author

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Dennis Hughes is a local freelance writer focused on good government and bad puns. He is a former union organizer, political operative, and cat cafe operator. You can follow him on Twitter @dennishughesjr, but there'd be no point.