The Cowles Conservatory of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden would lose its heat, its glass skirt, its current function and probably also its name under an advisory recommendation to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.
The preferred option urged Tuesday evening by a study committee would keep glass in the building’s upper walls and roof, but remove it from the lower portion of the structure. That’s a compromise between greater sustainability and weather protection.
Regardless of whether you love or hate that idea, you’ll have less than 24 hours after the panel’s decision to react to the idea under an extraordinarily compressed time frame that puts the sculpture garden rehab plan before a Park Board committee for a public hearing at its meeting Wednesday evening.
Park officials chose to allow just one day for the public to absorb the latest recommendation in order to try to keep the overall $10.6 million project on track for a planned August construction start. The recommendation was the final piece in the citizen advisory committee’s five-meeting process of recommending how the garden renovation should proceed.
The main factor driving the conservatory decision is cost. The building brings in about $30,000 in rental income annually against an estimated $100,000 to heat and maintain it.
Eliminating heating will save on the expense side, and the group was told that selling warming and alcoholic beverages in the partially glassed building seasonally, plus rentals for weddings and other events, could boost the income side of the ledger.
The recommended option will cost an estimated $1.5 million, which fits within its allotment under the sculpture garden budget, which is already $600,000 over available funds.
The group rejected a different option that would have cost an estimated $400,000 more and heated only the central tower of the building, leaving its wings open. That would have cost more to operate.
It also rejected a more minimalist option that would have stripped the building of all of its glass, replacing it with some form of yet-to-be-defined covering for some protection from sun and precipitation.
The group was dubious about the weather worthiness of that proposal. Moreover, it was told that it that not removing all glass would be cheaper, leaving money that would allow restrooms and storage area to be moved to a new building. That would make the 60-foot square main hall more flexible.
The recommendation was made without full analysis of how well the various options will stand up to wind and the forces of cold and heat expanding and contracting an unheated building.
Olga Viso, director of the neighboring Walker Art Center, told the group that the structure’s capacity to bear the load of hanging art was even less than thought, and that an unheated building would be challenging for artwork. But she said she’s discussed a potential lighted entrance installation with artists.
As for the building’s name, it will remain named after its Cowles family donors, but it will no longer serve as a botanical conservatory without heat. Some members of the group suggested Cowles Pavilion as a more fitting appellation.
“It’s like Prince. It will have a new name,” said panel chair Margaret Anderson Kelliher