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'This is not a decision any of us wanted to make,' infrastructure minister says of science centre closure

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Ontario’s minister of infrastructure says the province had “every intention” of keeping the current Ontario Science Centre open until construction was complete at the new facility but said the abrupt closure Friday was the result of a “health and safety risk” that she had to heed.

“It was my hope that we could keep the building alive until the new science centre was built but unfortunately we have to take the warning signs of engineers very seriously,” Infrastructure Minister Kinga Surma told reporters at an unrelated news conference on Monday.

“It is a health and safety matter. It is workers and children that are in the building everyday and therefore I am not going to risk the safety of workers and children.”

Gates were erected at the Don Mills Road facility on Friday morning just hours before the provincial government announced that it would be immediately and permanently closing the museum due to structural issues with the site’s roof.

A recent engineering report, that she said was reviewed by the Ford government on June 18, identified issues with a number of roof panels, indicating that there was a risk of a “failure” as early as this winter due to snow.

The report noted that the museum would only be safe to occupy until the end of October and the province said staff would need that time to vacate the site.

The Ford government had previously communicated plans to shut down the centre, which opened in 1969, and move it to Ontario Place as part of the revitalization of the downtown waterfront property, but Friday’s closure was much sooner than many expected.

Construction on the new science centre is slated to begin next year and the new site could welcome visitors as early as 2028, Premier Doug Ford previously announced.

Some in the community have questioned the urgency of the closure and have suggested that the province could fix some of the panels in most need of repair in an effort to keep the centre open to the public for a little while longer.

Surma told reporters Monday that the engineers who assessed the site advised against doing that.

“The engineers were quite specific when we spoke to them that if we were to do work on the roof, we should replace the roof in its entirety and the building would have to be closed through that period of time, two to five years just the roof work alone,” Surma said.

The engineering report indicated that replacing the roof would cost anywhere from $22 million and $40 million and the province has previously said that a minimum capital investment of $478 million would be needed to “address outdated and failing infrastructure” as well as “program requirements” at the aging museum.

Surma said that while the centre will remain open to staff over the summer months, public access had to be restricted in order to do the necessary work to decommission the site by the fall.

“We have exhibits, we have animals, we have staff in the building. We have to essentially turn the building off, make sure there is no hazardous materials, get all of the exhibits out of there, protect all of the equipment and so forth. So it is a job. And we are doing all of that planning now,” she said.

She added that steps have been taken to protect the workers currently on site.

'It's terrible'

Surma noted that the decision to close the museum immediately was made by the science centre’s board of directors shortly after the province reviewed the engineering report.

“It was the board, the science centre board, that made that very sad and difficult decision but we as the government stand by that decision,” she said.

Many in the city with fond memories of the museum expressed frustration and sadness upon hearing the news.

Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow previously described the closure as a “painful loss” for the city.

Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles called the closure "heartbreaking," particularly to those in Flemingdom Park and Thorncliffe Park who are seeing "a vital institution ripped from their community."

“It is terrible. It is horrible,” Surma said.

“It was a very difficult decision. I am saddened by it just like anyone else. In fact, I was hoping to take my nephew and my mom there this summer and we are not able to do that… This is not a decision any of us wanted to make.” 

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