There were plenty of thumbs up this week from an advisory committee for a planned redesign of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden – even with a cost-saving scaleback of an earlier version.

But the issue of what happens to the garden’s Cowles Conservatory remains undecided.

The latest iteration of the revamped garden proposed by a consultant team trims a $15.1 million version of the renovation to $10.6 million. That’s closer to a project budget estimated at $10 million.

The budget cut means changes like more concrete and less crushed granite for the garden’s footpaths. That’s good for people in wheelchairs but some advisory committee members dislike the aesthetic impact. Other examples of budget-balancing cuts are the deletions of a set of granite steps from a Lyndale Avenue stop, and one of two sloping walks from Lyndale.

The advisory committee to the Park and Recreation Board met thinking the meeting was its last. But the fate of the conservatory and a potential narrowing of Vineland Place will bring them back again next month.

No one expects the conservatory to vanish. But under a mandate to make the park more sustainable, major changes to slash its energy use are likely.

The two options discussed this week would keep glass in the conservatory tower with minimal heat but make its wings open-air, or alternately, remove the glass from the entire structure.

According to the Park Board, the entire garden produces about $30,000 in income, much of it from rentals for weddings and other events.  But the conservatory alone costs $80,000 to $100,000 to heat.

One option would be to cut the amount of space heated to just the tower, and cut the heat to about 50 degrees. Or the building could be stripped of all its glass, reinforced against wind and used seasonally. Panel member Craig Wilson said some neighbors are distressed at the latter possibility because they see it as a winter oasis. He also wondered if a metal skeleton would rain bird droppings.

Project planners have hired a consultant to help them determine potential use of the conservatory, which they hope will help the group make a decision on how much it should be deconstructed. Some $1.5 million has been budgeted for the conservatory, part of which would likely be used to improve the stability of the building’s floor.

Margaret Anderson Kelliher, who chairs the advisory group, said she’s captivated by the potential of an open building, which she said could be wrapped in fabric to increase its utility. “I think it it is incredible, and puts us on the map in the new North,” she said.

One change from the previous design is the addition of a concrete walkway southwest of the park’s signature “Spoonbridge and Cherry” sculpture where aerial photos show the heaviest foot traffic. Consultant oslund.and.assoc. also added more north-south walkways between the three sculpture pads they propose in the far northern section of the garden.

These boardwalks will run over meadows of hydrophytic plants, those capable of standing in water for several days while the precipitation drains into a cistern that will be pumped to water vegetation during dry periods. Consultants portray this meadow as a canvas to be painted in drifts of colorful water-tolerant plants.

Also on the panel’s docket for a final meeting is a discussion of future narrowing of Vineland, which separates the garden from the Walker Art Center. The current width was described as appropriate for emptying the Guthrie Theatre, which had a capacity as high as 1,400 when it was located on Vineland. But a narrower street would make it easier for pedestrians to cross between the museum and garden, the group was told.

The proposal is expected to get a public hearing at the Park Board in April, with construction beginning later this year.