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'We are ready to crowdsource this': Toronto philanthropist offers $1M to help keep Ontario Science Centre open

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A Toronto philanthropist is offering up $1 million to help keep the Ontario Science Centre open for the summer following the abrupt closure of the beloved North York museum last week.

Sabina Vohra-Miller offered up the cash this week, just days after she said she and her seven-year-old son visited the museum.

“I think on Friday it came as a huge surprise to us that the science centre closed abruptly and we tried to understand what was the reason for it,” she told CP24 on Tuesday.

“We wanted to understand, what would it take to keep the science centre open at least for the summer? And we realized that the amount is miniscule and that is absolutely something our foundation can support and we do that already.”

She and her husband run the Vohra Miller Foundation, which she says already supports STEM-related initiatives, particularly for underserved communities.

“This is right up our alley,” she said.

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

A recent engineering report 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 engineering report noted 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and the province has previously said that a minimum capital investment of $478 million would be needed to “address outdated and failing infrastructure” as well as “program requirements” at the aging museum.

While the report stated that the museum would be safe to occupy until the end of October, the province said staff need that time to decommission the site.

Vohra-Miller said her goal is to start a dialogue with the premier about what can be done to keep it open to the public, at least temporarily.

“The fact that we’ve had no conversation about the entirety of the science centre is problematic. There have been no public consultations, no stakeholder consultations, no transparency,” Vohra-Miller told CP24.

The Ford government had already planned to close 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 shut down was much sooner than expected.

“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.

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.

“There is no plan in the interim. What is happening for the next four to five years? Where do the children go? There is absolutely no other science centre that is available here for the kids of our city and that’s unacceptable,” Vohra-Miller said.

Sabina Vohra-Miller and her seven-year-old son visited the Ontario Science Centre last week. (Submitted)

“Especially in today’s times when there is a war against science, there is hostility against science… we need to bring science up, the love of science up, especially in our children. These are the years when all of this is so much or meaningful and impactful on them.”

She said multiple philanthropists in her own network have expressed interest in helping save the science centre.

“The entire city is willing to help. There are several other philanthropists within our own Shopify network, but even beyond… Everyone said, ‘We are happy to contribute. We are ready to crowdsource this.’ Let’s do it,” Vohra-Miller said.

“Everyone wants to see the science centre live. Let us help.” 

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