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Community outraged over abrupt closure of Ontario Science Centre

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Ontario Science Centre: Community outraged over abrupt closure
WATCH: The Ford government's decision to shutter the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto's Don Mills area with no warning Friday is drawing outrage from critics and members of the local community. Sean O'Shea reports. – Jun 22, 2024

The Ford government’s decision to shutter the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto’s Don Mills area with no warning Friday is drawing outrage from critics and members of the local community.

The government cited safety concerns after releasing an engineering report on the current structure which opened to the public in 1969. The government used the report to justify closing the Science Centre immediately.

“We were worried this stunt would be pulled by Premier Ford and the Ontario government,” said Jason Ash, co-chair of Save Ontario’s Science Centre, a citizen group campaigning to keep the current site.

The Ford government previously announced its intention to build a new Science Centre on a site at Ontario Place in downtown Toronto.

Click to play video: 'Government announces sudden closure of Ontario Science Centre'
Government announces sudden closure of Ontario Science Centre

“This is a manufactured crisis and we feel it’s an abuse of power,” Ash told Global News outside the Science Centre Saturday.

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The popular attraction was sealed off from public access after the engineering report found “serious structural issues” with the Science Centre that could materialize by winter. The Ministry of Infrastructure recommended to the attraction’s board of trustees that the building should be closed.

The move came as a surprise to some visitors who had arrived for a tour of the building.

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Sameer Sayed and his three children live across the street from the Science Centre and are regular visitors, especially in the summer.

“If you can’t convince them, confuse them,” Sayed said, describing his view that the provincial government is trying to convince the public that the structure isn’t safe to justify the move to Ontario Place and quell opposition to the decision.

Click to play video: 'Hundreds of Torontonians rally against Ontario Science Centre move'
Hundreds of Torontonians rally against Ontario Science Centre move

While the engineering report does point out issues within the 55-year-old structure, it falls short of recommending a shutdown.

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“I read the report; it says nothing about closing the Science Centre,” said Elsa Lam, editor of Canadian Architect Magazine.

Click to play video: 'Ford government releases business case for moving the science centre.'
Ford government releases business case for moving the science centre.

The local member of provincial parliament, who visited the site Saturday, also read the report and questioned the immediate closure.

“One (roof) panel is (listed as) critical condition, 90 per cent are in good shape,” said Dr. Adil Shamji, MPP-Don Valley East. “It doesn’t say the roof is in imminent danger of collapse – 0ne panel needs to be repaired urgently.”

“This is a politically-motivated ambush for Ford to appease his donors and friends,” said Shamji, referring to the controversial redevelopment plans for Ontario Place, which include a privately operated spa and wellness centre.

On Saturday, a day after the Science Centre was shut down and surrounded by tall steel fences and round-the-clock private security guards, contractors began demolishing structures over at Ontario Place.

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“We are going to continue to shine a light on what they’re doing: destroying historical architecture at Ontario Place,” said Norm Di Pasquale, co-chair of Ontario Place For All, a group that opposes the government’s development plans on the site.

Click to play video: 'Lack of transparency on Ontario Place: NDP'
Lack of transparency on Ontario Place: NDP

The decision to close the Ontario Science Centre has an immediate impact on families who had booked summer kids camps at the facility. They have been cancelled and parents have been promised refunds.

“(The children) shouldn’t have to go elsewhere. We’ll see what we can do,  maybe some other programming, the city does own some land in and around that area,” Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow told Global News.

The city owns the Science Centre land but has no control over the decision to close it.

On Wednesday, Chow says city council will meet to consider short and longer-term alternatives for those affected and the possibility of providing space for the Science Centre until a new one is built.

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A new Science Centre won’t be open before 2028.

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