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‘It was magical’: Architect wants University of Toronto’s McLaughlin Planetarium preserved

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WATCH ABOVE: As the future of the McLaughlin Planetarium remains uncertain, one U.S.-based architect is fighting to keep the Toronto landmark preserved. Erica Vella reports – Jan 24, 2017

The future of the McLaughlin Planetarium is uncertain, but a U.S.-based architecture professor wants the University of Toronto to have the building preserved or restored.

Jeff Balmer grew up in Toronto and said he remembers visiting the planetarium when he was just seven years old.

“It was magical. It was fantastic… coming into the theatre space and seeing all the rings of chairs and [I remember] just being blown away by what I saw on the ceiling and just the whole universe opened up to me,” Balmer said.

“It was pretty exciting stuff for a kid who was interested about the world around them.”

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The planetarium’s future has been in question since it closed its doors in 1995 because of low attendance.

In 2009, the University of Toronto bought the property from the Royal Ontario Museum and now the space is currently being used as a storage facility.

Scott Mabury, the University of Toronto’s vice president of university operations, said the university looked at alternate uses for the building. However, it has been unsuccessful.

“Unfortunately, every building has to have a use,” Mabury said.

READ MORE: Long-abandoned Queen Elizabeth II Planetarium getting second chance

“The university does need for all of its buildings to be used to advance the mission of education, learning, teaching, scholarship and discovery, and this building is not reusable in its existing form.”

Mabury said the university is planning to replace the planetarium with the Centre for Civilizations and Cultures.

“We fully expect the schematic design process, which is going on right now and started last September, will be complete by the summer,” Mabury said.

“We will have fantastic images to show not only the university community, but the broader public in the summer time.”

Balmer, however, said he hopes the university will reconsider. He has started an online petition to seek public support.

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“I do see a problem with the sort of speed with which we are losing historically significant buildings,” Balmer said.

“There had been various campaign to get the buildings either restored as a planetarium or at the very least preserved.”

READ MORE: Montreal’s Dow Planetarium closes for last time

Mary MacDonald, a senior manager with the City of Toronto’s Heritage Preservation Services office, said the future of the planetarium is not necessarily set in stone.

“The University of Toronto has submitted a new secondary plan for their entire downtown campus,” MacDonald said.

“Part of that plan – as with all planning studies – is to take a look at all the buildings and determine there is any heritage value to those buildings.”

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