$2.5M Renovation Project Continues on Belle Isle Conservatory

About $2.5 million in improvements continue on the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory on Detroit’s Belle Isle, completely closing the nation’s oldest turn-of-the-century glass house still in existence until July.
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Belle Isle’s Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory will be closed until July as it undergoes renovation. // Photograph courtesy of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources

About $2.5 million in improvements continue on the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory on Detroit’s Belle Isle, completely closing the nation’s oldest turn-of-the-century glass house still in existence until July.

“Funding for these significant structural repairs are made possible through the partnership between the Department of Natural Resources and the Belle Isle Conservancy with generous support from the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation,” says Amanda Treadwell, urban field planner for southern Michigan – metro Detroit district of the Michigan DNR parks and recreation division. “The community’s support and patience for these repairs during construction is very much appreciated.”

Detroit’s Ideal Contracting began replacing the lower portion of the original steel trusses that support the conservatory dome, or the palm house, in early October. So far, 10 of the 20 columns have been replaced. Complete replacement is scheduled for May.

Lead paint abatement is required prior to truss column removal. Areas of abatement are contained, and air quality measures are in place to control airborne contaminants. The conservatory will remain closed to ensure public safety.

The feasibility of opening on the weekends including for the Easter Lily Show on April 20-21 and 27-28 will be evaluated in April. Updates will be available on the conservatory’s Facebook page. A previous article stated the north and south wings and the showroom would remain open to the public, but this is no longer possible.

Events that were previously reserved for the conservatory show room will be held during construction. Reservations for new events will be taken again after construction work is complete.

After the lower truss replacement is finished, repairs to the upper truss columns and gutters will continue. Field investigations found additional steel components that need replacement in the upper truss sections of the dome.

The project is the first phase of a revitalization plan by the Department of Natural Resources and the Belle Isle Conservatory for the conservatory itself and the Belle Isle Aquarium. More than $9 million in additional funds are being sought for renovation of the upper portion of the conservatory dome.

Current funds include about $1.4 million from DNR parks and recreation capital infrastructure funds and a $1-million grant from the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation. The money from the DNR includes $550,000 that was added to the original contract to fund the current upper truss repairs. Previously, the conservatory reported it received about $900,000 of DNR parks and recreation capital infrastructure funds. Additional steel replacement to the upper dome has been funded since October

The conservatory was built in 1904 and sits on 13 acres that includes a greenhouse and a botanical garden.

The plants are doing well, as the temperature of the dome has been kept consistent throughout construction. The steel truss replacement is occurring inside of the dome.

Belle Isle Park attracts more than 4 million visitors per year.

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