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Milwaukee County facing $1 billion in deferred maintenance on high-profile landmarks

Putting off big repairs in your home? You may have something in common then with Milwaukee County.
Posted at 6:04 PM, Sep 15, 2022

MILWAUKEE -- Putting off big repairs in your home? You may have something in common then with Milwaukee County.

Our parks and public buildings are faced with a much more daunting bill: One billion dollars. That estimate was given to us by Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley last Wednesday, explaining, "If we talk about our [Milwaukee County] Parks Department alone, we have a half a billion dollars in deferred maintenance, and in Milwaukee County as a total it's about one billion dollars in deferred maintenance."

We take a look at the options on the table for the future of many high-profile buildings, like the Mitchell Park Domes.


The impartial Wisconsin Policy Forum lays out the ugly truth in this 2019 report called "Picking Up The Pieces." You can read it below:

PickingUpThePieces Full by TODAY'S TMJ4

The more the maintenance is put off each year... You see the number keeps piling up.

"The key story is the hundreds upon hundreds of smaller infrastructure projects, requests that had been made by county department heads year after year," Rob Henken, Wisconsin Policy Forum President, said.

Yet more popular places like The Mitchell Park Domes have brought all of this to light. We have known since 2016 that concrete up to the size of a tennis ball is falling inside from as high as 80 feet.

Wire mesh wrapping has been the temporary fix.


Six years later, the estimated cost to repair the Domes has risen from $64 to $100 million.


"It's one of those amenities that you really don't want to lose. But in the end, you have to look at the big picture," said Henken.

Henken, President of the Wisconsin Policy Forum, points out what happened. Just last week TMJ4 News covered that $19 million in extra Affordable Care Act money was requested for Domes repairs, but was instead diverted to help rebuild the Medical Examiner's Office, which is in even worse shape.

"For decades, there has been knowledge that The Medical Examiner's building was becoming extremely substandard to the point of even becoming dangerous," Henken said.

When we spoke to Henken six years ago about our crumbling infrastructure, he said the Milwaukee County Public Safety Building would cost $100 million. Henken said today the cost is, "A lot more than that now... a lot more than that now."

Updated numbers from the Wisconsin Policy Forum's 2019 report projected that number to be $249,519,833.

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County Executive David Cowley hopes our state legislature will consider the proposal to add a 1-percent county tax, to offset these costs. Henken is skeptical, saying, "There's no question whatsoever that that could be part of a solution. That's probably not going to be enough."


This leads back to the future of some of these Milwaukee buildings, like the Domes. Henken believes it might have to come down to donations or business partnerships.

Jeremy Ebersole with the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance spoke at Tuesday's Milwaukee County Committee on Parks and Culture to push leaders to support, adding the Mitchell Park Domes to the National Register of Historic Places, which could get them $7.4 million in tax credits for repairs.


Ebersole explains this is a long process to get onto this registry.

"Right, it's likely about a year or so to get added to the registry," Ebersole said.

He explains why he's so passionate about saving The Domes.

"It really is my favorite building in Milwaukee," he said. "My son, my first child, was born in December of last year, and the Domes was the very first place we took him outside the house. I want the Domes to be around for him to enjoy as much as I've enjoyed them."

You can learn more about the Save Our Domes initiative on the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance website. The initiative also has its own Facebook page.

Domes Jeremy and Walden Closer (1).jpg

This week, the County Board of Supervisors Committee on Parks and Culture agreed to move forward on this plan. A small step for this huge problem.

Also, the Wisconsin Policy Forum rated all of our county-owned parks and buildings from 'Good' to 'Poor.' Again, you can read the full report HERE:

PickingUpThePieces Full by TODAY'S TMJ4

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