TORONTO – An analysis of the state of the Ontario Science Centre found that building a new one at Ontario Place would save the government about $250 million over 50 years, compared to rebuilding it at the current east Toronto location.
Those savings are among the reasons cited in a business case presented today by Infrastructure Ontario that concludes moving the attraction to a redeveloped Ontario Place on Toronto’s waterfront is the better option.
It says significant savings come from the planned science centre at Ontario Place being about half the size of the existing space.
The business case references years of limited capital investments in the current building and a lack of spending to modernize the exhibition spaces in detailing how the science centre got to this point.
The report says when it opened in 1969 it was the world’s first interactive science centre, but has seen declining attendance over the past decade and is facing $369 million in deferred and critical maintenance needs over the next 20 years.
It says it would cost $1.3 billion over 50 years to restore the building and exhibits at the current science centre site and $1.05 billion to build a new science centre in a pavillion at Ontario Place as well as repurposing the pod and Cinesphere structures for science programming.
“Even after making the required $478 million capital investment at the current OSC site (including exhibit and cosmetic upgrade costs), the ongoing subsidy required for the Remain option is greater than that required for the Relocate option,” the business case analysis concluded.
“This cost differential is due to additional costs required at the Don Mills site related to operations of a much larger facility, cost premiums related to its inefficient building layout and costs related to the upkeep of the 50-acre City-owned property.”
A building condition report prepared by consultants in April 2022 found “multiple critical deficiencies” in roof, wall, mechanical, electrical and elevator systems, interior finishes, site features, and fire and life safety equipment.
“Some of these conditions should not be unexpected due to the age of the OSC facility, limited capital lifecycle investment to date, high volume of visitors year over year and specialized design of the facility,” the business case found.
Along with the limited capital spending in the science centre, the report said a “lack of investment in visitor experience” has led to a 40 per cent decline in attendance from 2009 to right before COVID-19 hit.
“Many of the OSC public areas and exhibits have not benefited from modernization for 10+ years,” the report said. “Some parts of the OSC have not been updated since it opened in 1969. To remain competitive in the tourist and education market, an additional investment of $109 million is required to modernize the exhibits and undertake cosmetic improvements to the public areas.”
When Premier Doug Ford announced updates in April to his government’s plans to redevelop Ontario Place, it included moving the science centre and Infrastructure Minister Kinga Surma cited a “business case analysis” as justification.
She said the science centre’s current building is “in disrepair” and the analysis showed it would be less expensive to move the science centre downtown rather than rebuild it at the current location.
The new science centre at Ontario Place – with a planned opening in 2028 – is set to be half the size of the current one, though the government says there will be more exhibition space despite a smaller overall footprint.
The government refused requests from The Canadian Press and other media outlets in April to publicly release the business case and has given itself three-time extensions to fulfill a request for it under freedom-of-information legislation, with the last deadline of Sept. 20 coming and going unacknowledged.
Earlier this week, Ford and Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow announced that as part of a deal that will see the province take on the operations and costs of the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway highways, the two levels of government will discuss keeping some sort of science programming at the existing science centre location.
The city owns the land at that site, and the province has a long-term lease to operate the science centre there.
Infrastructure Ontario ordered the science centre in June 2022 to close a pedestrian bridge connecting the main entrance to the exhibition halls after the bridge was deemed unsafe. The science centre put a shuttle service in place taking visitors from the parking lot to its rear entrance, but it says in its latest business plan that attendance figures and revenues have been negatively affected by the bridge closure.
The science centre is working with Infrastructure Ontario to evaluate options for repair and maintenance of the bridge, the business plan said.
The report released Wednesday said bridge repair would cost $16 million.
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