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Eight weeks after reopening to the public, the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory on Belle Isle will celebrate its new steel trusses with a reopening gathering Thursday.

Officials with the Belle Isle Conservancy and Michigan Department of Natural Resources, both of whom oversee and manage Belle Isle, will gather at 4 p.m. Thursday to mark the reopening of the beloved landmark after $2.5 million in repairs to its signature dome.

Decades of water damage compromised the original 21-foot steel trusses in the lower dome of the 1904 conservatory that supported the conservatory’s 85-foot upper dome. Crews replaced the original trusses with galvanized steel.

"The trusses were in really bad shape," said Amanda Treadwell, urban field planner with the Metro Detroit district of the state's natural resources department. 

The public will get a chance to see just how bad those trusses were, which were also covered in lead pant, when a new sculpture by artists Erik and Israel Nordin also is unveiled on Thursday, made from that same steel. The sculpture will be located in the conservatory gardens at the west entrance at Picnic Way.

Treadwell said she actually contacted the Nordin brothers and asked if they'd be interested in the old steel trusses and they were. They date back to 1904 when the conservatory opened.

 "Belle Isle was very dear to them," said Treadwell.

The conservatory, which was designed by architect Albert Kahn and was originally called the Horticultural Building, is the oldest continually running conservatory in the country.

It's divided into five "houses," according to its website: the Palm House, which includes tropical trees and palms; the Cactus House, which has succulents and cactus; the Fernery; the Tropical House, which has plants that provide food such as bananas, oranges, figs; and the Show House, which has changing displays of flowering plants.

The latest updates were funded by DNR Parks and Recreations funds along with a grant from the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation. Officials say the updates "will support the Palm House dome well into the next century," according to a press release.

The timeline for a second phase of structural repairs at the conservatory, which will cost around $10 million, meanwhile, is still being determined.

Treadwell said they're still working on securing funding for that work -- though engineering work has started -- which will include updating the upper portion of the dome with new tapered glass and replacing some small portions of the trusses. 

mfeighan@detroitnews.com

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