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Toronto not in a position to assume operations of shuttered Ontario Science Centre, staff say

The City of Toronto is not in a position to take over operations of the now shuttered Ontario Science Centre, staff say.

The province made the decision to permanently close the museum on June 21, citing significant structural issues that it said would cost tens of millions of dollars to resolve.

Five days later Toronto City Council asked staff to report back on the feasibility of the municipality taking over operations of the facility, which occupies city-owned land that was leased to the province for the purpose of operating a science centre.

However, in a report that will go before Mayor Olivia Chow’s executive committee on Tuesday staff appear to largely dismiss the concept due to the high costs.

In the report, staff point out that the museum received provincial grants of more than $19 million against operating expenses in 2023 and still recorded a loss of $784,000 for the year.

To put the size of the subsidy in context, staff said that the city’s entire budget for cultural institutions is only $27 million and that money is distributed between 249 organizations.

“Based on publicly-available information, the feasibility for the city alone to assume and operate the OSC appears to be very low – even independent of the facility’s critical state of good repair needs,” the report notes.

A new science centre is expected to be opened at Ontario Place but that facility is not expected to be operational until at least 2028.

In the meantime, the provincial government has issued a request for proposals for a temporary home for the science centre.

In the report, staff warn that any attempt by the city to “restore and sustainably run a science centre” on the Thorncliffe Park site “would be challenged” by the Ford government’s plans to re-establish the Ontario Science Centre at Ontario Place “which would likely create competition between the facilities.”

Staff go on to say that the current lease can be terminated if the building is damaged whereby 50 per cent or more of the structure is unfit for a museum. If the lease is terminated the city and the Toronto Region Conservation Authority – which each own portions of the land – could then demand that the province restore the building to its original condition at its own expense, staff say.

As for the future of the site, staff say that there will need to be additional due diligence and discussions with the province to determine next steps, including the potential “to explore opportunities to maintain science programming in the Flemingdon Park and Thorncliffe Park communities.”

“It’s the City of Toronto that owns it and anything they decide to do outside of building another science centre we’ll be there to support them,” Premier Doug Ford said of the site last week. “Do whatever you want to do with it.”

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