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Ford dodges questions about Ontario Science Centre closure during Pearson appearance


Appearing in Mississauga on Wednesday, Premier Doug Ford dodged reporters' questions about the abrupt closure of the Ontario Science Centre last week.

Ford attended the airport for Worker Appreciation Day, but left before answering reporters' questions on the sudden shuttering of the space.

The building, designed by the late Raymond Moriyama in 1969, closed with just hours' notice on Friday. The province, citing an engineering report authored at the request of Infrastructure Ontario, said the immediate closure was necessary due to structural issues with the facility’s roof, claiming it was unsafe to occupy. The needed repairs would cost millions, the province said.

The decision and its hasty execution have since been decried by politicians, residents, and the facility's many visitors over its more than 50 years in operation.

“Shutting the building down is not warranted, and to drive that point home, most of the serious repairs are not even over exhibition spaces or major public spaces,” said Brian Rudy, an architect with Moriyama Teshima Architects. “So there’s no reason for the exhibition spaces to be closed even now.”

Premier Doug Ford attended Toronto Pearson Airport for Worker Appreciation Day on June 26, 2024, but left before answering reporters' questions on the sudden shuttering of the Ontario Science Centre. (CP24)

While the report cited by the province found that some six per cent of roof panels as in need of replacement, it also found that alternatives such as restricting access to certain areas, installing temporary reinforcements, and making other modifications to the building could have delayed the facility's rushed closure.

Buoyed by tens of thousands of letters and signatures on petitions to save the centre, Toronto’s elected leaders have also been exploring additional options.

“The Science Centre is a very special place. I was totally heartbroken when I heard about that abrupt closure Friday afternoon,” Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow told reporters Wednesday morning.

“The province can’t just walk away. It’s a historic building. At council this week we are looking at the provincial responsibility. We have a lease with the province for 99 years for a science centre. They have some responsibility,” she said.

A visitor walks past a window that offers a view of the ravine at the Ontario Science Centre, in Toronto, Friday, May 5, 2023. On that day, the Ford government presented its "business case" for moving the centre to a redeveloped Ontario Place. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

In the interim, the Ontario Science Centre is exploring options for alternative and virtual programming, and pop-up experiences. In turn, Infrastructure Ontario has put out a request for proposals for a temporary replacement for the building, until a smaller replacement can be built at the controversial Ontario Place redevelopment.

But according to Elsa Lam, of Canadian Architect Magazine, “the perfect location for a temporary location of the Science Centre would be exactly where it is right now.”

“The danger concerns solely a number of these panels,” Lam told CTV News Toronto in an interview. “Even if there’s an exceptionally large snow load on them, the engineering report says you can isolate this danger by just preventing people from walking underneath the specific panels.”

Citing the report, Lam pointed out that most of those panels are not directly above permanent exhibition areas.

“All those exhibition areas on the valley floor space at the Science Centre are a completely different kind of roof,” she said.

Moving the Science Centre has been a marquee goal of the Ontario PCs, which has spent considerable political capital pushing the role of a new centre at a redeveloped Ontario Place.

Fences around the building now join the fences around a not-yet-opened stop on the Eglinton Line, which still bears the name ‘Science Centre’ on its signage.

In a statement, the Ministry of Infrastructure said that the needed repairs boast “a potential cost of at least $22 to $40 million and would require a closure of the facility for more than two years.”

“Other critical repairs to the site include wall systems, elevator systems, interior finishes, site features, fire and life safety equipment, heating, cooling and electrical infrastructure. The full capital investment to address outdated infrastructure in the building would be at least $478 million,” the statement reads.

In comparison, the engineers report estimated the total repair of the roof would cost about $25 million, with about $8 million in the first year. The firm, Rimkus Consulting Group, referred questions on the report to its client, Infrastructure Ontario. 

Crews are shown putting up fencing restricting access to the Ontario Science Centre on June 21.

Same panels used in Toronto schools

At issue are reinforced autoclaved, aerated concrete panels. Once widely used, the panels are in need of repair in buildings all over the world, including hundreds of schools in Ontario.

In Toronto, 52 of 582 schools in the TDSB have the panels. The district says it has spent approximately $109 million to replace 24 roofs and partially replace 16 more. By 2049, it plans to have replaced dozens more.

In Toronto, 52 of 582 schools in the TDSB have the same panels used in the now-closed Ontario Science Centre.

According to TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird, the panels don’t pose any immediate threat to the students or teachers in the buildings.

“Bottom line: it is safe to remain in these schools. If it wasn’t we would make sure that students and staff are not in that area and not in the school,” Bird said. Top Stories

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