An advisory committee strongly supported a planned redesign of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden — even with a cost-saving scaling back of an earlier version.

But the fate of the garden's Cowles Conservatory remains undecided.

The latest iteration of the revamped garden proposed by a consultant team scales down a $15.1 million version of the renovation to $10.6 million. That's closer to a project budget of around $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 change. Other examples of budget-balancing are deleting a set of granite steps from a Lyndale Avenue stop, and deleting one of two sloping, accessible walks from Lyndale.

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 annual 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 lower the temperature setting 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 by 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 determine potential use of the conservatory, which they hope will help the group make a decision on its degree of deconstruction. About $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.

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 walkways between the three sculpture pads they propose in the far northern section of the garden, but some on the committee want more.

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

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