“End of life.” On Wednesday, the provincial bureaucrat Michael Lindsay attached those words to the Ontario Science Centre. The museum’s 1969 structure is “near its end of life,” he said, and therefore the structure – designed by the late architect Raymond Moriyama, heritage-listed, beloved by thousands – must go dark.
That is bunk. Closing the existing Science Centre and moving it to Ontario Place is a political priority and nothing else. Now the Ford government has released its “business case” for this move, and we can see it clearly: The government’s logic is bogus and its numbers are faulty.
At stake is a scheme to close the Science Centre, located in the suburb of Don Mills, and relocate its operations to a new building at Ontario Place. That new centre would employ the existing exhibition buildings at the waterfront site, including the Cinesphere IMAX theatre and the exhibition spaces known as the Pods. For almost a year, Premier Doug Ford and Infrastructure Minister Kinga Surma have claimed that this complex project would be cheaper and more lucrative than leaving the centre where it is.
The “business case,” torqued and twisted to serve the government’s desired result, is supposed to prove that point. It does not. Its headline claim is that the move will save the government nearly $600-million over a half a century. But this number is misleading in several dimensions.
First: The alleged price of the new Science Centre is not accurate. The province proposes this new structure sit atop a 2,000-space underground parking garage. That garage, if built, would cost about half a billion dollars. None of that is counted in the “business case.” And if the parking moves to a different location – as Mr. Ford and Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow suggested this week – then the new Science Centre also needs to build its own basement. Either way, there are hundreds of millions of dollars missing from this “case.” Then there’s the renovation of the existing “Pods” and Cinesphere, designed by the office of Eb Zeidler for Ontario Place a half-century ago. That work is happening, but the government has excluded most of those expenses, too.
The larger problem, however, is on the other side of the equation. The Moriyama Science Centre needs repair. According to the government, this 54-year-old structure needs $369-million in repairs over 20 years. (The $257-million cited this week is based on net present value, as opposed to nominal value.) In plain language, the government has let it run down. Most of the alleged savings in the business plan come from choosing not to pay these bills.
Yet this week, Mr. Ford and Ms. Chow spoke agreeably about keeping the facility open under city control. So, then: Who fixes the building? Who pays to run it? If it survives, the province is saving money by dumping perhaps $300-million in liabilities on the city. It’s a shell game, nothing more.
Oh, and kids in the Toronto area will suffer for it. In the business case, the consultants Lord Cultural Resources make clear that moving the centre from its present location near Highway 401 will mean longer car rides for suburban families, having a “somewhat negative impact on [their] attendance,” and on most school groups.
What’s happening, likely, is this: Doug Ford is personally committed to building something big! and exciting! at Ontario Place. His government also hesitates to spend money on repairing the Science Centre. This way, he kills two birds with one report.
But Ontarians need to see through the rhetoric. The phrase “end of life” here comes from Pinchin, consultants hired by the province. In a report included within the business case, they argue that “the average theoretical facility’s lifespan is estimated to be approximately 80 years,” and so the Moriyama building doesn’t have long for this world.
Well: This is not the average facility. It’s a 20th-century cathedral of science, built of high-quality concrete on an incredible site. It is big and luxurious and dramatic. It has a Great Hall shaped like the trillium, Ontario’s provincial flower. Its lead architect, in a letter to The Globe and Mail, recalled that it was built to last “far beyond 250 years.” And it will, if some vandals don’t destroy it first.