Ontario Science Centre to close immediately after report finds roof at risk of collapsing

The Ford government says in just a matter of months, the Ontario Science Centre will no longer be structurally sounds for the public. As Tina Yazdani reports, critics are shocked by the sudden closure.

The Ontario Science Centre will be closing immediately after an engineering report found that the roof is at risk of collapsing, provincial officials say.

According to a report, the more than 50-year-old building is at risk of potential roof panel failure due to the snow load this winter.

“The latest engineering assessment shows that the roof structure in parts of the facility was built using construction materials and systems that are now outdated and that certain roof panels are deteriorating,” read an Ontario government news release.

Officials said the building should stay safe over the summer months with enhanced monitoring to allow for staff to vacate the facility safely.

The engineering firm Rinkus Consulting Group said fully negating the risk would require replacing each of that type of roof panel at a cost of between $22 million and $40 million, and that would take two or more years to complete with the facility closed.

“The actions taken today will protect the health and safety of visitors and staff at the Ontario Science Centre while supporting its eventual reopening in a new, state-of-the-art facility,” Infrastructure Minister Kinga Surma said in a statement released on Friday.

Infrastructure Ontario will issue a “request for proposals” to help identify an alternative location for the science centre as work continues to build the new one at Ontario Place, which is expected to be completed as early as 2028.

Previously scheduled private events will be permitted to occur over the weekend, but the province will be reimbursing any members of the Ontario Science Centre and summer camp participants for 30 days.

Provincial officials said they would make every effort to avoid disruption to the public and ensure the Ontario Science Centre can “continue delivering on its mandate through an interim facility as well as alternative programming options.”

They have also identified a nearby school that will house similar programming as an alternative to summer camps free of charge to campers who have already registered.

Ontario Public Service Employees Union, which represents 549 workers at the science centre, said they will shift toward working on the building’s closure.

Union president J.P. Hornick spent the afternoon with employees.

“Not only are they worried about their own jobs over the long-term, they’re worried about what closing the Science Centre immediately will mean for the children who were signed up for summer camps, and school and family trips,” Hornick said. 

“They’re worried about the impact of closing this community anchor for Flemingdon Park and Thorncliffe Park, and leaving the people who live in these communities behind.”

Opposition MPPs slammed the move Friday afternoon.

Adil Shamji, the Ontario Liberal Party MPP for Don Valley East — the riding where the Ontario Science Centre is located, called the announcement “convenient” for justifying the controversial Ontario Place redevelopment plan.

“How does [the report] justify closing the entire Ontario Science Centre at a whim?” he asked, adding the roof issues aren’t widespread.

Ontario NDP GTA issues critic and Parkdale-High Park MPP Bhutila Karpoche called the decision “shameful.”

“Why shut it down with less than a day’s notice,” she said while questioning a lack of maintenance at the property to date.

Mayor Olivia Chow said the closure of the science centre a “painful loss for the city across generations old and new,” and said she was deeply disappointed that successive provincial governments have “let it fall into such disrepair over the years.”

“I’ve seen the wonder and joy on the faces of my grandchildren as I’ve taken them through the exhibits at the Ontario Science Centre. It’s a special place that sparks imagination and curiosity, and creates a love of science and learning that lasts a lifetime,” Chow said.

She added she will be supporting a motion coming to next week’s city council meeting that will explore the province’s responsibilities related to the Ontario Science Centre.

The Ontario Science Centre first opened in 1969 at the Don Mills location and was the world’s first interactive science centre.

Advocates have been fighting to keep the Ontario Science Centre at Don Mills since Premier Doug Ford announced it would be moved to Ontario Place during the revitalization of the waterfront area.

The new facility planned at Ontario Place is set to be half the size, though the government has said it will have more exhibition space. The current one has “extraneous space,” with long hallways and areas not used by the public.

A business case concluded that relocating the science centre from its current location would save about $250 million over 50 years, largely because of its size.

A building condition report from April 2022 found that the building would face $369 million in deferred and critical maintenance needs over the next 20 years. The report found “multiple critical deficiencies” in roof, wall, mechanical, electrical, and elevator systems, interior finishes, site features, and fire and life safety equipment.

Infrastructure Ontario also ordered the science centre to close a pedestrian bridge connecting the main entrance to the exhibition halls in June 2022 after it was deemed unsafe.

The business case estimated that bridge repair would cost $16 million, but no timeline was ever released for it.

With files from The Canadian Press and Nick Westoll

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