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Ontario Science Centre to close immediately as province points to roof concerns, costly repairs

The Ontario Science Centre is shutting down immediately as an engineering report commissioned by the province shows the roof could collapse — but while it could be fixed at a cost, the province is choosing to shutter the location indefinitely.

The province announced Friday that a type of lightweight concrete, popular in the 1960s when the building was constructed, has now proven problematic and requires costly repairs.

The abrupt closure comes after the government’s controversial announcement in 2023 that the popular landmark and attraction would be moved to the Ontario Place site — a move it says will save costs.

While the building is safe to enter now, it won’t be by the end of October with the threat of snow, the report notes. As such, the province says it needs to be emptied now.

“The actions taken today will protect the health and safety of visitors and staff,” said Infrastructure Minister Kinga Surma in a news release. “We are making every effort to avoid disruption to the public and help the Ontario Science Centre continue delivering on its mandate.”

You can read the full engineering report at the bottom of this story.

The province’s decision to move the site has received backlash from opposition parties, advocacy groups and the Thorncliffe Park neighbourhood where the science centre is situated — a community with a high population of young children and limited recreational space.

An engineering report this week by Rimkus Consulting Group showed each of the centre’s three buildings contain roof panels in a “distressed, high-risk” condition, the Ministry of Infrastructure said in a news release.

Fixing roof could cost up to $40M: ministry

The panels require fixing by Oct. 31, 2024 to “avoid further stress due to potential snow load which could lead to roof panel failure,” the release said.

Fixing the roof will cost between $22 million and $40 million, the ministry said, requiring the centre be closed for up to two years.

Ontario Science Centre and surroundings on a sunny day.
Ontario Science Centre and surroundings on a sunny day. The province announced Friday that the science centre will shut down immediately. (CBC)

“These estimates are incomplete and subject to change,” said the ministry, noting the costs make up only a “small portion” of the funding needed to keep the science centre open.

The government says the centre needs $478 million to tackle its “failing infrastructure” and sustain programming.

The province is choosing not to implement those fixes. Instead, the science centre will be moved to a temporary location before it ends up at Ontario Place, officials said at an online news conference Friday afternoon.

Lightweight concrete problematic: IO

In the news conference, Infrastructure Ontario (IO) said in was provided with a building analysis from engineering firm Pinchin in 2022 that showed the building was in desperate need of multiple repairs.

“The mechanical issues in the building have continued to worsen,” said Michael Lindsay, IO president.

The lightweight concrete, called reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC), featured in the science centre was a popular substance when the science centre was built in the late 1960s. But it is now known that the material can be problematic when exposed to moisture, said Lindsay.

Workers erect a chain-link fence on a road, with an Ontario Science Centre sign in the background.
Workers began erecting fencing around the Ontario Science Centre on Friday, as the province announced the building will be immediately closing because of the risk of a roof collapse. The Ontario Science Centre opened in 1969 and the Ford government plans to relocate it to Ontario Place. (Cristian Gomes/CBC)

IO has identified 79 provincial buildings with concerns about this concrete, 49 of which are occupied. Those buildings have “enhanced management” to combat issues to due with RAAC, said Lindsay. 

“Where we found critical spots … we’ve had appropriate mitigation in-place” for water management with the roof, he said. “But the reality is, is that the roof of the science centre is really at the end of its life.”

WATCH | AG says school boards weren’t consultated about science centre move:  

School boards not consulted about proposal to move Ontario Science Centre, auditor general finds

7 months ago

Duration 1:10

In his office’s annual report, the province’s Acting Auditor General Nick Stavropoulos found the Ford government’s proposal to relocate the Ontario Science Centre to Ontario Place lacked consultation with stakeholders like the City of Toronto and Greater Toronto Area school boards.

The new science centre at Ontario Place is set to open in 2028, said Lindsay.

Michael Robertson, the assistant deputy minister with the Ministry of Infrastructure, said there are no “immediate” job losses for science centre staff. But he couldn’t say if there will be guarantees for job retention in the future.

Robertson said that while the building is safe today, they need four months before the winter to empty out the facility.

Campers to be reimbursed

The science centre runs summer camps that were set to begin in early July. The province says science centre members and summer camp participants will be reimbursed within 30 days, in addition to being offered a free camp location at a nearby school.

The government says Infrastructure Ontario will put out a request for proposals on Monday for a temporary science centre location, before it is moved to Ontario Place.

In the interim, it says the science centre will be looking to host programming virtually or through “pop-up experiences.”

In a statement, the science centre’s team said the building is a beloved landmark.

“The memories made within these walls are truly special,” they said. 

“While we are no longer able to welcome visitors at our current location, we will continue to deliver innovative science experiences virtually, through pop-up experiences and in an interim facility, as we plan for our new permanent home at Ontario Place,” they said. 

More details about what’s next for the science centre will be shared shortly, they said. Refunds will be offered for all members, ticket holders, campers, school groups and tours, they added.

Ford ‘trying to pull a fast one’ with closure: MPP

Floyd Ruskin, the co-chair of advocacy group Save Ontario’s Science Centre, says Premier Doug Ford’s government is focused on constructing a private spa on the Ontario Place site run by the company Therme.

“Doug Ford will proceed to close the science centre … just for the sole purpose to reward Therme spa and Ontario Place,” he said outside of the centre Friday. 

WATCH | Advocacy group questions timing of sudden closure: 

Group opposed to Ontario Science Centre closure questions timing of move

4 hours ago

Duration 0:55

Floyd Ruskin, co-chair of Save Ontario’s Science Centre, says there are many questions about the province’s timing shutting down the Ontario Science Centre — including the decision to release the information on a Friday afternoon.

“This is a crisis created by the government by not properly funding it,” he said.

Adil Shamji, the Liberal MPP for Don Valley East, spoke alongside Ruskin.

“Of all days that Doug Ford could claim the roof of the science centre is at risk of collapsing, it has to be the same year that he is proposing to move the science centre to Ontario Place … to support a private foreign spa company,” he said.

Shamji said Ford allows public infrastructure to fall apart in order to advance private interests.

“This is Doug Ford trying to pull a fast one,” he said.

Closure ‘heartbreaking’: NDP

“Closing a world-class science and cultural institution is heartbreaking,” provincial NDP Leader Marit Stiles said on X, formerly Twitter.

She said the government’s “real motive” is to justify constructing a spa.

“The [province] could have invested in revitalizing the Science Centre, but instead it’s using our public money to concoct a sham business case against this important community hub,” she said.

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