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Ontario Science Centre School Closed to Dozens of Grade 12 Students

Ontario Science Centre School Closed to Dozens of Grade 12 Students
Ontario Science Centre School Closed to Dozens of Grade 12 Students

Dozens of high school students from across the province who hoped to study for a semester at the Ontario Science Centre were told they won’t have that chance after the building suddenly closed last month.

Science Centre staff informed 65 families that the Science School program for grade 12 students had been cancelled for the upcoming school year, leaving many to quickly make new plans for their final year of high school, and still wondering when the program would reopen.

“I’m curious and science is the most efficient way to learn about a lot of cool things about our world,” says Amber King, a high school student in Ottawa who has loved experiments and hands-on learning since she was little.

King had signed up to join other like-minded science enthusiasts at what she called “a cornerstone of science in Canada” in Toronto in September — until her family was told last week that the program would not go ahead.

“It was really shocking and disappointing. I had spent so much time planning what my life would be like around the fact that I was going to go to science school,” King said in an interview.

The Ontario Science Centre was suddenly and permanently closed on June 21 after the province claimed an engineering report showed problems with the roof tiles that made the building unsafe to occupy.

It turned out that the engineering report gave other options than closure. Since then, others, including the company that designed the building, have said that the roof could be safely repaired with reasonable measures, including cordoning off part of the building.

The building’s closure was a blow to the Science School, which had welcomed about 60 students in two semesters to the Ontario Science Centre for decades.

“Unfortunately, due to the closure of our building at 770 Don Mills Road, we are unable to offer our Science School program for the 2024-2025 school year. Without the interactive Science Centre as our home base, we cannot deliver this unique program,” spokeswoman Laura Berkenblit said in a statement to CTV News Toronto.

“As we make plans for a temporary location and our future home at Ontario Place, we will look at ways to deliver Science School. We appreciate the patience and understanding of all affected students as we navigate these recent changes,” she said.

It is not yet clear when the program will reopen.

The province’s request for proposals for a temporary location states that the building must open no later than January 1, 2026. If the school opens then, it will only affect three semesters, or about 100 students.

The RFP, however, does not directly mention a school. It states: “The tenant is considering various types of activities, including, but not limited to, public display facilities and other related uses as required.”

Nick Gomez taught biology at the Science School for three years in the 1990s. Video footage shows Gomez explaining how ducks imprint, using real ducks for the students to follow.

A general view of the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto, Friday, May 5, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESSChris Young

He said it was a crucial learning opportunity that allowed students to pursue their passions outside of the regular curriculum. And Gomez said the province benefited greatly because those people would go on to jobs that would expand knowledge and help people.

“When you lose that, you lose something unique,” ​​he said. “Children weren’t even an afterthought. This is a huge loss.”

A 1994 Science School graduate, Jennifer Courts Minor, showed photos of students building and flying hot air balloons from materials they had been given. In another, students showed race cars powered by the springs in rat traps.

“It was a great school,” Minor recalls. “Even university programs couldn’t provide that experience. I think back to our class, all the graduates, and how they became teachers, engineers, physicists, surgeons. They’re all people who have careers that give back to society… to eliminate that program is a real shame.”

The province has estimated the cost to repair the roof would be about $40 million, and $478 million to repair the entire building.

An analysis by Elsa Lam of Canadian Architecture Magazine found that the cost of repairing the building could be cheaper than a temporary science centre, and it wouldn’t cause as much disruption. Lam estimated it would cost about $24 million to make priority repairs to keep it open for years, and $200 million to repair the building, based on previous government reports.

“It absolutely didn’t have to be this way. We could have made the necessary repairs to keep it running,” Lam said.

About 75,000 people have written letters to elected officials to save the Ontario Science Centre.

Meanwhile, King said that if she were in charge, she would reopen the Science Centre and take advantage of the many offers of help and donations from Ontarians who have spoken out.

“I think it’s worth it. Scientific literacy is really important. It’s a really valuable skill to have,” she said.

Even if the Science School finds a home next year, it will be too late for King. It is only for grade 12 students, and by then she will have graduated.