Core attractions at the Ontario Science Centre may not survive the move to Ontario Place, according to provincial documents that indicate the new site lacks the necessary space for an indoor immersive rainforest, outdoor adventure playground and the planetarium.
Infrastructure Ontario recently issued a request for proposals (RFP) for the planning and design of the new Ontario Science Centre, which is set to become one of three flagship attractions at the redesigned Ontario Place. It also laid out the province’s expectations for the relocated facility.
The government is aiming to construct a “unique architectural and energy efficient” facility along with “multi-story underground parking” and a “retrofit of the existing heritage pod and Cinesphere complex.”
As part of the redesign, Infrastructure Ontario conducted “spatial” analysis of Ontario Place and immediately determined that certain elements of the existing Science Centre may not physically fit in the new location.
The Ford government has already indicated the new facility will take up roughly 275,000 square feet, half the size of the current 568,000-square-foot structure located near Don Mills Road and Eglinton Avenue in Toronto.
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The provincial documents, posted to a membership-only website for government contracts, also acknowledged that the portions of the Science Centre that were left out are “core to the overall experience” and are asking bidders to consider adding them into the new designs.
Those projects include:
- Immersive experience: The province provides the TELUS Rainforest an an example of a large-scale immersive experience that might be axed. The government’s analysis of Ontario Place “does not currently contemplate the opportunity for a large immersive space that replicates the experience of the TELUS Rainforest.
- Outdoor experience: The province says an outdoor adventure playground, with free and pay-to-play structures, could be a stand-alone destination at Ontario Place and could be part of the Science Centre design.
- Planetarium: The province says a modern new Planetarium would be “core to the Science Centre experience” and would provide “invaluable tools for science communication.” While the Ontario Science Centre is proposing a new 27-metre (90-foot) tall Planetarium, a structure of that size may not fit in the new location.
Infrastructure Ontario has deemed these three projects as “OSC Plus” and indicated they would only be approved if there is enough space and they are cost effective.
“The supplier shall provide information to IO’s cost consultant to inform construction cost estimates of the OSC+ items,” the document states. “Once affordability has been confirmed by IO, the supplier shall incorporate these elements into the OS.”
Ken Greenberg, an urban planner and a member of the advocacy group Ontario Place for All, questioned why the province would want to cut down the stature of the Ontario Science Centre.
“Why are we putting it in a position where the spatial constraints are forcing us to diminish it,” Greenberg said. “There are so many things that are wrong with it.”
The provincial documents argue that attendance at the science centre has declined by 40 per cent over the last decade, resulting in “significantly reduced revenues” as operating costs have increased.
The declining revenue, combined with necessary capital repairs, are part of the reason the Ford government said it wanted to relocate the facility.
“We’re building a world-class science centre, 300,000-square-feet with exhibits,” Ford declared in April. “This is for the people.”
While the designs have yet to be finalized, Greenberg suggested most design firms bidding on the contract would likely focus on the central portions of the science centre and parking structure, rather than the “OSC plus” elements.
“This is the instructions to bidders, and the chances are if they’re already admitting that these things don’t fit, then they don’t fit.” Greenberg said. “Chances are the bidders will follow the instructions.”