Ontario Science Centre to close immediately: province

Ontario Science Centre and surroundings on a sunny day. The province announced Friday that the science centre will shut down immediately.  (CBC - image credit)
Ontario Science Centre and surroundings on a sunny day. The province announced Friday that the science centre will shut down immediately. (CBC - image credit)

The Ontario Science Centre is shutting down immediately due to the risk that the building's roof could collapse, the province announced Friday.

The closure, which the province says could last years, comes after the government's controversial announcement in 2023 that the popular landmark and attraction would be moved to the Ontario Place site — a move it says will save costs.

"The actions taken today will protect the health and safety of visitors and staff," said Infrastruction Minister Kinga Surma in a news release. "We are making every effort to avoid disruption to the public and help the Ontario Science Centre continue delivering on its mandate."

Backlash to the province's decision to move the site has also come from the Thorncliffe Park neighbourhood, as it's a community with a high population of young children and limited recreational space.

An engineering report this week by Rimkus Consulting Group showed each of the centre's three buildings contain roof panels in a "distressed, high-risk" condition, the Ministry of Infrastructure said in a news release.

The panels require fixing by Oct. 31, 2024 to "avoid further stress due to potential snow load which could lead to roof panel failure," the release said.

Fixing the roof will cost between $22 million and $40 million, the ministry said, requiring the centre be closed for up to two years.

Workers began erecting fencing around the Ontario Science Centre on Friday, as the province announced the building will be immediately closing because of the risk of a roof collapse. The Ontario Science Centre opened in 1969 and the Ford government plans to relocate it to Ontario Place.
Workers began erecting fencing around the Ontario Science Centre on Friday, as the province announced the building will be immediately closing because of the risk of a roof collapse. The Ontario Science Centre opened in 1969 and the Ford government plans to relocate it to Ontario Place.

Workers began erecting fencing around the Ontario Science Centre on Friday, as the province announced the building will be immediately closing because of the risk of a roof collapse. The Ontario Science Centre opened in 1969 and the Ford government plans to relocate it to Ontario Place. (Cristian Gomes/CBC)

"These estimates are incomplete and subject to change," said the ministry, noting the costs make up only a "small portion" of the funding needed to keep the science centre open.

The government says the centre needs $478 million to tackle its "failing infrastructure" and sustain programming.

Roof 'at the end of its life': Infrastructure Ontario

In a news conference on Zoom Friday afternoon, Infrastructure Ontario (IO) said in was provided with a building analysis from engineering firm Pinchin in 2022 that showed the building was in desperate need of multiple repairs.

"The mechanical issues in the building have continued to worsen," said Michael Lindsay, IO president.

The lightweight concrete featured in the science centre was a popular substance when the science centre was built, but it is now known that the material can be problematic when exposed to moisture, he said.

"Where we found critical spots ... we've had appropriate mitigation in-place" for water management with the roof, he said. "But the reality is, is that the roof of the science centre is really at the end of its life."

The new science centre at Ontario Place is set to open in 2028, said Lindsay.

Michael Robertson, the assistant deputy minister with the Ministry of Infrastructure, said there are no "immediate" job losses for science centre staff. But he couldn't say if there will be guarantees for job retention in the future.

Robertson said that while the building is safe today, they need four months before the winter to empty out the facility.

Campers to be reimbursed

The science centre runs summer camps that were set to begin in early July. The province says science centre members and summer camp participants will be reimbursed within 30 days, in addition to being offered a free camp location at a nearby school.

The government says Infrastructure Ontario will put out a request for proposals on Monday for a temporary science centre location, before it is moved to Ontario Place.

In the interim, it says the science centre will be looking to host programming virtually or through "pop-up experiences."

Ford 'trying to pull a fast one' with closure: MPP

Floyd Ruskin, the co-chair of advocacy group Save Ontario's Science Centre, says Premier Doug Ford's government is focused on constructing a private spa on the Ontario Place site run by the company Therme.

"Doug Ford will proceed to close the science centre ... just for the sole purpose to reward Therme spa and Ontario Place," he said outside of the centre Friday.

"This is a crisis created by the government by not properly funding it," he said.

Adil Shamji, the Liberal MPP for Don Valley East, spoke alongside Ruskin.

"Of all days that Doug Ford could claim the roof of the science centre is at risk of collapsing, it has to be the same year that he is proposing to move the science centre to Ontario Place ... to support a private foreign spa company," he said.

Shamji said Ford allows public infrastructure to fall apart in order to advance private interests.

"This is Doug Ford trying to pull a fast one," he said.

Closure 'heartbreaking': NDP

"Closing a world-class science and cultural institution is heartbreaking," provincial NDP leader Marit Stiles said on X, formerly Twitter.

She said the government's "real motive" is to justify constructing a spa.

"The [province] could have invested in revitalizing the Science Centre, but instead it's using our public money to concoct a sham business case against this important community hub," she said.