How to pay for repairing the Ontario Science Centre? Let’s start by using the money it’s taking to close it

The $50-$100 M it will cost to demolish and set up a temporary location for the Science Centre would more than cover the $30 M needed in repairs over the next few years—and put a sizeable dent in the $200 M needed to set the Science Centre to thrive for decades to come.

This article is a follow-up on my previous articles debunking the business case for the Ontario Science Centre’s relocation, analyzing how the engineers’ roof report doesn’t call for a complete closure, demonstrating how a temporary location of the Science Centre would be costly and would not be open for two years, and calculating how the actual cost to repair the Science Centre is around $200 million—or just $25-30 million for tackling priority repairs—not the $478 million that is being cited by the Province.

Over 78,000 people have signed a petition demanding the reopening of the Ontario Science Centre. And it’s clear, as with any older building, that repair and reinvestment will be needed.

It’s true that in addition to the cost of roof repairs, there are other repairs needed to maintain the Science Centre’s buildings in good working order. But, as I have written before and detailed yesterday, the actual construction cost of repairs over the next 20 years is around $200 million—not the $478 million that the Province cites. To keep the building open for the next few years would cost much less—around $25-30 million.

The actual figure for repairs comes in at $211 million. This is based on the estimates provided by the Province’s consultants Pinchin and Rimkus, and applies industry standard figures for construction escalation, consultant fees, and contingency, instead of the province’s inflated mark-ups. It fully addresses deferred maintenance and sets the building up to be functional for decades to come, including addressing repairs needed to the roof and budgeting $16 million in repairs to the pedestrian bridge.

But what about just keeping the building operating for a shorter term—say, until a new facility is opened at Ontario Place? In its business case for the relocation, Infrastructure Ontario had planned to do just that. It estimated that the repairs needed to keep the Science Centre functional on a smaller footprint (presumably within the valley-side Building C, which contains the bulk of the exhibitions) until a new Science Centre was ready would amount to $32 million. (In reality, the cost should be $24 million if you were to use industry standard mark-ups and contingencies, rather than the Province’s mark-ups—and even less still if you take into account that Moriyama Teshima Architects, the firm that originally built the centre, has assembled a consultant team to help with the roof repairs pro bono—but we’ll stick with $32 million for simplicity).

Let’s also assume that roof repairs were an unexpected addition to this cost—and that the Province opts to undertake the full $2 million in roof repairs and replacements recommended by their consultants to take place in the coming five years for Building C alone. The total comes to $34 million.

$34 million is not insignificant, but it is also far less than the $478 million figure that Infrastructure Ontario says it is unwilling to invest in a Science Centre that will be soon closed. It’s also far less than the $83 million it may take to lease and fit-out a temporary location for the Science Centre.

Even if the Province manages to pull off the leasing and fit-out of a temporary location for $25 million (at the very lowest end of my calculations), that space would not be open for two years, costing $14 million in lost admission and membership revenue—a total of $39 million.

It would be less expensive, by the Province’s own numbers, to simply keep the existing facility running on a smaller footprint. The repairs would more than pay for themselves.

Closure doesn’t mean that the Province can simply walk away from the Science Centre. There are significant costs in addition to paying for a temporary location.

The business case notes that the return of the OSC lands to the City could entail the Province being responsible for decommissioning costs ($21 million) as well as costs related to returning the building to a state of good repair (up to $369 million). The document notes that the Province would hope to minimize these expenses by negotiating for the lease to be terminated quickly on a “as is, where is” basis.

In the long run, when the Science Centre relocates to Ontario Place, the buildings will revert to the City of Toronto. The Province’s lease obliged it to keep the buildings in a state of good repair, and in terminating the lease, the City can seek compensation for losses associated with the early lease termination. In its business case, Infrastructure Ontario has allocated $21 million towards decommissioning the existing Science Centre to resolve this—a number that seems to correlate with the cost of demolishing the buildings, clearing the slate for redevelopment. But the business case for the relocation also acknowledges that the province may be on the hook for “costs related to returning the building to a state of good repair (up to $369 million).”

An excerpt from the business case for the relocation of the Ontario Science Centre details the cost of demolishing the buildings at $25 million, roughly correlating with the “decommissioning” costs detailed earlier.

An excerpt from the business case for the relocation of the Ontario Science Centre details the cost of demolishing the buildings at $25 million, roughly correlating with the decommissioning costs detailed earlier. It also notes that “as a heritage asset, demolition would require Ministry of Citizenship and Multiculturalism (MCM) Minister’s Consent.” As commentators to Adam McNamara’s X thread analysis of the business case have noted, the current MCM Minister is Michael D. Ford, Premier Doug Ford’s nephew.

Demolition may become more difficult if the buildings become heritage designated with the City of Toronto, a process which is underway now, and which should be completed by mid-September, 2024.  This would require the approval from the City for any changes to the “heritage attributes” of the centre, and make demolition a last resort to other solutions for the site. However, as the Auditor General has pointed out, under the Province’s amendments to the Ontario Heritage Act in January 2023, Cabinet could exempt even a city-designated Ontario Science Centre from having to comply with heritage standards and guidelines.

Perhaps more pertinently, under the New Deal for Toronto, the City and Province are currently discussing retaining the buildings for “community-based science programming,” creating a public expectation that the buildings will not be demolished—but will, indeed, but repaired and reinvested in, whoever is paying the final bill.

Ontario Science Centre. Photo by James Brittain, courtesy Moriyama Teshima Architects

If the Province no longer wants to be responsible for the Science Centre buildings, it would seem reasonable for the City to ask the Province for the $25-83 million it would otherwise have spent for a temporary location, plus the $21 million it had budgeted for decommissioning the buildings—easily something in the realm of $50-$100 million in all.

In return, the City could agree to reinvest that money in the Science Centre, including making the needed $26-32 million in repairs needed to keep it open it until a new Science Centre opens in 2030-2034. Under such an agreement, the Science Centre would also continue to receive its ongoing operational funding from the province. The small yearly operational deficit of the Science Centre, around $1 million, could be covered by the generosity of private donors who have stepped up to keep the Science Centre open—such as Sabina Vohra-Miller, Geoffrey Hinton, and  Adam McNamara; the Auditor General’s report also identified opportunities for the Science Centre to increase its self-generated revenues.

A partial view of the Ontario Science Centre’s Great Hall. Photo by James Brittain, courtesy Moriyama Teshima Architects

Ideally, some version of the Science Centre would continue operating on the site after a new satellite location is completed at Ontario Place—both to make full use of the Moriyama building, as well as to serve locals and school audiences who will have more difficulty accessing an Ontario Place location. To make this viable for decades to come would require a continual commitment of operational funding from the Province, as well as further support for capital work—but this would be to the tune of $100-150 million, not the hundreds of millions that the Province is suggesting. There would be years to figure out where that money could come from—perhaps some combination of public sources, the development of the Science Centre’s parking lots, private philanthropy, and self-generated revenue.

In any case, making the needed repairs to the Science Centre in the interim makes fiscal sense, and sets the Science Centre up for success in the future. Most importantly, it benefits Ontarians, and especially the province’s kids and parents—who want to see the doors of the Ontario Science Centre reopened as soon as possible.


The true cost of repairing the Ontario Science Centre is much, much less than what Infrastructure Ontario has been saying—and the proof is in its own documents

Cost of Ontario Science Centre temporary location exceeds cost of roof repairs

Ontario Science Centre doesn’t require full closure: A close reading of the engineers’ report

TSA issues open letter on Ontario Science Centre closure

Closing science centre unnecessary, says firm of architect who designed building

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