Monday, July 15, 2024

Ontario Science Center closes due to structural issues

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Maria Gill
Maria Gill
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The Ford government says it will permanently close the Ontario Science Center to the public “effective immediately” due to “serious structural issues” identified with the building in a recent engineering report.

The sudden closure of the North York tourist attraction means Toronto residents will no longer be able to visit the museum after today, although special events scheduled over the weekend will be allowed to go ahead.

“Today’s actions will protect the health and safety of visitors and staff at the Ontario Science Center while supporting its eventual reopening in a new, state-of-the-art facility,” Kenja Surma, the province’s infrastructure minister, said in a statement. press release.

“In the meantime, we are doing everything we can to avoid disruption to the public and help the Ontario Science Center continue to deliver on its mandate through a temporary facility, as well as alternative programming options.”

According to the county, a new report from engineering firm Rimkus Consulting Group found that the center, which opened in 1969, is “at risk of potential roof panel failure” as early as this winter due to “snow loads.”

“A recent engineering evaluation shows that the roof structure in portions of the facility was built using materials and building systems that are now outdated and that some of the roof panels are deteriorating,” the news release said.

“Although the building remains safe during the summer with enhanced stormwater monitoring and roof utility management, staff will need these months to safely evacuate the building.”

Damage to the roof of the Ontario Science Center is visible in photos from an engineering report. (Ontario Government)

Damage to the roof of the Ontario Science Center is visible in photos from an engineering report. (Ontario Government)

“Danger to public safety”

In the report, the engineering firm evaluated the status of reinforced aerated concrete (RAAC) panels, a lightweight concrete product that was a “popular choice” of structural materials in educational, institutional and industrial buildings in the province from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s.

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The report noted that RAAC “has been shown in other countries to have the potential to degrade due to water leakage.”

“As a building material, RAAC has generally lower durability compared to traditional steel or concrete roofs, making it more susceptible to impact damage and increasing the risk of sudden failure. Overall, the life span of RAAC panels is lower compared to other common roof deck types, including Steel decks or traditional precast concrete panels.

“Deficiencies that have developed over time in RAAC products installed in existing buildings pose an increased risk of future failure, if exposed to continued moisture ingress. If continued deterioration of panels is allowed to occur, this poses an increased potential for RAAC failure. Consequences of RAAC failure include potential damage to buildings and risks to safety the public.

The report notes that of the committees the company was able to evaluate, one committee was placed in the “critical risk” category, while about six percent were identified as “high risk.” Another nine percent were considered “moderate risk” and the remaining 84 percent of panels were “low risk.”

“Water ingress and unreinforced field modifications permanently reduced the carrying capacity of the RAAC panels. As such, the compromised panels were operating with a low factor of safety, compared to their original design intent.”

“Large amounts of snow or rain may exceed the low carrying capacity of distressed panels, putting them at increased risk of sudden collapse.”

Damage to the roof of the Ontario Science Center is visible in photos from an engineering report. (Ontario Government)

Years of deferred reforms

It has previously been found that much of the repairs needed are due to deferred maintenance that has been put off for years by current and previous provincial governments.

According to a business case released last year, the roof is just one of a number of things that have fallen into disrepair at the facility, including mechanical, electrical and elevator systems, all of which require significant investments.

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The province said a minimum capital investment of $478 million is needed to “address aging and failing infrastructure” at the museum as well as “program requirements.”

In the wake of the new report, the district said all employees must vacate the building by October 31.

On Friday, government officials said there would be “no immediate job losses” associated with the facility’s sudden closure, but did not say what would happen to Ontario Science Center staff after the building was fully evacuated.

The facility, located at 770 Don Mills Road in Toronto’s Flemingdon Park neighbourhood, is scheduled to host a number of summer camps in the coming months, and the Ontario government says it plans to compensate all participants within 30 days.

“The district has also identified a nearby school that will house similar programs as an alternative free summer camp site for pre-registered campers,” the news release said.

A request for proposals will be issued Monday by Infrastructure Ontario to find a “suitable temporary site” for programming until construction is completed on the new permanent facility at Ontario Place.

The former previously announced that construction on the new government building for the Ontario Science Center being constructed as part of Ford’s plan to revitalize Ontario Place would begin in 2025. He said the center could welcome visitors as early as 2028.

‘A painful loss for the city’

The decision to move the facility to Ontario Place was met with criticism by advocates and local politicians who argued that the Ford government did not adequately consult the community about moving the attraction to a smaller location downtown.

In addition, the land on which the Science Center is located is owned by the city, and the current lease, negotiated in 1965 for 99 years, only allows the structures to be built “for the purposes of operating as a Science Center.”

Toronto Mayor Olivia Chao has previously indicated her desire to maintain science-related programs in the region.

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In a statement, Paul Courtenaar, CEO of the Ontario Science Centre, said the memories created at the site are “truly special” and are “the foundation on which we will build our future.”

For more than five decades, the Ontario Science Center has been a beloved landmark and an integral part of our community and province. “Our building itself has been part of the experience, a treasured space for generations of visitors, sparking wonder and curiosity about science and the world around us, every day.”

In a statement issued Friday, Chow said the closure is a “painful loss for the city.”

“I have seen the amazement and joy on my grandchildren’s faces as I take them through the exhibits at the Ontario Science Centre. It is a special place that sparks imagination and curiosity, and creates a lifelong love of science and learning,” she said.

“I am deeply disappointed that successive provincial governments have let it fall into such disrepair over the years.”

She said the news is particularly difficult for residents in the community, where more spaces are needed for young people and families.

Chow hinted that a proposal will be presented to council next week to “explore the province’s responsibilities related to the Ontario Science Centre.”

“I support this proposal and look forward to the discussion in the Council,” the statement concluded.

Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles called the closure “heartbreaking,” especially for those in Flemish Park and Thorncliffe Park who see “a vital institution taken away from their community.”

“Communities outside the downtown core deserve nice things too… Families across Toronto will lose out on general science education for their children, possibly for years,” she wrote.

“The government could have invested in revitalizing the Ontario Science Centre, but instead it used our public funds to fabricate a false business case against this important community centre.”

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