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Ontario Science Centre’s wish list for new site includes planetarium, rainforest

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Ford government releases business case for moving the science centre.
WATCH: A business case has been prepared by the provincial government to consider moving the Ontario Science Centre from Don Mills Road and Eglinton Avenue to Ontario Place. Colin D'Mello has the story – Nov 29, 2023

TORONTO — A planetarium, an outdoor adventure park and a large immersive exhibit such as a rainforest area are features the Ontario Science Centre would like to see in a new location at Ontario Place – though there’s currently not enough space in the much smaller planned site.

Infrastructure Ontario released a “business case” Wednesday that the government is using to justify moving the science centre from its current east Toronto location to the downtown Ontario Place on the city’s waterfront.

The analysis said moving the attraction rather than renovating the existing site would save the province about $250 million over 50 years, largely because the new building would be about half the size of the current space.

The government has said that while the new building will be smaller, it will have about 10,000 square feet more of exhibition space than the current one because the existing science centre is a sprawling building with many large hallways and areas not in public use.

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But a lot is set to be lost, according to a wish list of sorts from the Ontario Science Centre that is found within the appendices of the business case.

The 275,000-square-foot size of the planned new building at a redeveloped Ontario Place is the “smallest possible” size to contain all “core” Ontario Science Centre programming, the business case says.

“The relocation of the Ontario Science Centre as part of the Ontario Place revitalization will require a reduction in the size of the building/square footage, requiring a rationalization of the current activities,” reads a section of the document titled “OSC plus” on science centre letterhead.

“Some aspects of the current offerings cannot be included in the functional plan and yet are core to the overall experience and should be contemplated within the relocation project.”

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Infrastructure Minister Kinga Surma’s office said the section provides “opportunities to contemplate those additions” but no decisions have been made.

There is no large immersive space in the planned new science centre such as the rainforest area in the current building, the document says.

“This creates a gap in the overall science centre experience,” the document says.

“Most notable science centres that are considered world-class include this unique and visceral experience as part of their offering. Such experiences integrate mind, body and emotion and offer a powerful learning opportunity that can engage all types of learners.”

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The science centre wants to see a planetarium on the new site, envisioning it as “the largest of all planetariums or giant dome theatres in North America, and in fact, the largest in the Western Hemisphere that warrants world-class attention and will be a landmark for Toronto.”

The list also includes an outdoor adventure park with climbing and play structures, but it notes there isn’t much outdoor space envisioned in the current plans for a new science centre.

“The overall OSC experience will be limited without including outdoor fun and science-based experiences,” it says.

Estimated costs for the features are listed at $4.5 to $5.1 million for an immersive space, $19.4 to $39 million for an adventure park, and $28.5 to $38.5 million for the planetarium.

A consulting firm report on attendance projections in the business case said those features “would have a positive impact on attendance.”

As currently envisioned, the new science centre at Ontario Place would attract about one million visitors per year once the “curiosity factor” driving additional visits in the first two years dies down, the Lord Cultural Resources report said.

That is more that the science centre currently attracts, but lower than its peak of nearly 1.3 million annual visits a decade ago.

Having the science centre at Ontario Place would likely draw more tourists and venue rentals, but would limit visits from school groups and suburban families, the report said.

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“This is the core market for the OSC,” the consultants wrote in the report.

“Ontario Place is a longer travel distance for more suburban families than the current OSC site … This will likely have a somewhat negative impact on attendance and especially on repeat visitation and membership levels among the suburban young family market.”

The science centre also has a 40,000-square foot fabrication facility, where exhibits are built for the Ontario Science Centre and for clients around the world, generating $2.5 to $3 million a year in revenue.

There is no space for it at an Ontario Place science centre, but Infrastructure Ontario is looking at nine potential new locations for it, with leasing costs of between $420,000 to $690,000 per year.

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