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Ford government releases business case for science centre relocation. Here's why they are moving it to Ontario Place

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Moving the science centre to Toronto’s waterfront could save the province hundreds of millions of dollars while creating a “cultural anchor” at Ontario Place, a business case for the decision has found.

The report, which was presented to the Doug Ford government in March 2023 and released publicly on Wednesday, also suggests the move could “counter negative perceptions of the commercialization and privatization” of Ontario Place.

“The concurrent planning of these two public assets provides government with a unique opportunity to simultaneously revitalize two provincial assets through one capital investment,” the business case states.

According to the report written by Infrastructure Ontario, the government would spend more money to repair and modernize the existing museum and education centre currently located in North York than to build a new facility.

The business case notes the centre near Don Mills Road and Eglinton Avenue has an “inflexible design and no longer meets the expectations of modern visitors.” As such, about $396 million minimum would be required in the next 20 years to address this repair work, the report suggests.

Much of the repair work is due to deferred maintenance that has been put off for years. The building’s roof, wall, mechanical, electrical and elevator systems, among other things, are in disrepair and require significant investment.

The report also notes that impact from construction related to multiple transit projects in the area, including the Ontario Line, may result in a decrease in visitors.

Instead, the government could construct a new, smaller facility at Ontario Place that would repurpose the existing pod and Cinesphere structure already at the site for about $387 million. This is about $9 million less than it would cost to repair the existing centre.

“The status quo is no longer a viable option and the current OSC (Ontario Science Centre) operational model is not sustainable,” the report concluded, while adding that securing a “publicly-owned cultural anchor” could be an important addition to Ontario Place.

Even with the costs of decommissioning and moving the exhibits, as well as severance, the business case suggests that hundreds of millions could be saved long-term by making the move. The only downside appears to be that less people will be employed at the new location due to the size of the facility.

Infrastructure Ontario noted that about $257 million in tax dollars would be saved over a 50-year period, or close to $600 million if inflation is factored in.

“In short, no matter what money we spend on updating the existing OSC site. It will always be less efficient, oversized for its current needs and be more expensive to operate and maintain,” Michael Lindsay, president and chief executive officer of Infrastructure Ontario, told reporters at a technical briefing held Wednesday.

Lindsay added that the benefits of having the science centre at Ontario Place was the “clustering effect.” Visitors will be able to enjoy all of the other features at Toronto’s waterfront while also visiting the science pavilion.

The business case does suggest keeping the Ontario Science Centre open in some capacity while construction occurs—whether at its original location or another physical or virtual presence—which has the potential to eat into the potential savings. Additional costs could also occur if the government decides to support new components to the science centre, such as more immersive experiences, an outdoor adventure park, planetarium or fabrication facility.

It also doesn't include the cost of refurbishing the pods or Cinesphere.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THE ORIGINAL SCIENCE CENTRE?

Premier Doug Ford announced that the Ontario Science Centre would be moving to the waterfront in April and that construction would begin in 2025.

The decision was met with criticism by advocates and local politicians who argued that the centre in Flemington Park is a tourist attraction and there should have been further consultation.

The land the original science centre sits on is owned by the city and the current lease, which was negotiated back in 1965 on a 99-year term, only allows for the construction of structures “for purposes of operating as a science centre.”

The March report notes that “preliminary discussions with the City of Toronto have confirmed support for opening the OSC lease to enable a relocation.”

Formal negotiations had not yet occurred at this time, but the business case indicates the province would not be required to remove buildings from the site upon termination or expiry of the lease.

It also suggests the land could be used to create transit-oriented communities, including building housing near the new Ontario Line stations.

The province recently was given the thumbs up from the city on their plans to move the science centre to Ontario Place as part of a new deal that will see Toronto save billions of dollars through the uploading of the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway.

In exchange the city will not fight the province on their Ontario Place plans.

As for what will happen at the original North York site, Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow has indicated she wants to maintain science-related programing in the area. It’s unclear what form this will take.

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