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City council on Monday reversed last week’s decision and recommendation to install $76,500 worth of safety netting to protect visitors and workers from falling glass.
Council also directed asked administration to prepare a new report detailing what it would take to either build a new facility at the present site or refurbish the current one.
It was the news Keely Banning has been looking for since talk of permanently closing the 45-year-old site down, or worse yet, tearing it down.
Banning, one of the most vocal supporters of the conservatory, said she had all but given up hope for the decision that was ultimately made.
“It’s never a straight line usually,” she said, after sitting through three hours of deputations and discussion.
“It’s not going to be 100 per cent perfect, but we’re on our way and it means at least it’s not going to be closed or demolished. And that’s a good thing.”
Marie Dean, president of CUPE Local 87, was not only fighting to save the facility, but the 4.5 full-time jobs it creates.
The first person to address council on Monday, Dean said she was happy with the result.
“I’m glad that they’re going to take a second look at either restoring or rebuilding. That’s something the citizens want, as well as my workers,” she said.
One by one councillors reiterated they didn’t want to see the city lose its conservatory.
But each had his or her own idea of how Thunder Bay should go about keeping it.
Some, like Coun. Rebecca Johnson, said retaining the conservatory at all costs was not fiscally responsible.
She was one of four councillors to vote against the netting, which could allow the city to reopen the conservatory by year’s end.
Johnson was concerned the netting will only be the start of a long list of money needed to keep the facility operational.
“To Band-Aid it, I’d rather see that $76,500 go toward the actual refurbishment or toward the rebuilding,” she said. “In the long term it’s going to cost us more money and I’m not prepared to do that,” she said.
Current River Coun. Andrew Foulds, who got confirmation the net could be re-used once purchased, said council and administration owed it to the people of Thunder Bay to keep the long-neglected conservatory open.
“We built this thing as a centennial project and it was meant to be a legacy project for this entire community. It wasn’t meant to end.”
Meanwhile Red River Coun. Brian MacKinnon, one of several councillors to question city officials about the accuracy of glass-falling reports, said the netting is a must as he tried to convince his fellow councillors to follow suit.
“If you want another Elliot Lake, here it is,” he said, referencing the fatal mall collapse earlier this summer in the Northern Ontario community.
The original motion had called for the demolition of three greenhouses and a continuation of the tropical display house which has remained closed to the public since this past February. The new motion, which council passed, calls for a study detailing the costs to repair or replace the greenhouses, in addition to the netting.
The east and west wings of the display house will remain closed until repairs can be made.
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