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Conservatory renewal recommended

Thunder Bay's city council will consider a recommendation to renew the centennial botanical conservatory on Monday, with total costs potentially topping $4 million.
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City council will consider a recommendation to renew the centennial botanical conservatory on Monday. (File photo)

THUNDER BAY – Thunder Bay’s city council will consider a recommendation to approve the renewal of the centennial botanical conservatory on Monday, putting $1.4 million on the table and looking to upper levels of government to cover at least another $2.5 million.

The project’s total cost is now estimated at between $3.96 and $4.67 million, up from a previous estimate of $3.1 million, said city parks and open spaces manager Cory Halvorsen.

That investment would allow the city to renovate and reopen the conservatory’s long-shuttered side wings, replace glass panels and a boiler, and introduce an event room that could be booked for meetings and events including weddings.

Previous reports from the city have suggested the changes could also bring up to $100,000 a year in savings, through energy efficiency and additional planting capacity.

Much of the increase in estimated costs comes from the proposed addition of an annex connecting the conservatory and production greenhouses, which would provide operational benefits, said Halvorsen.

City administration recommends allocating $1.4 million of municipal dollars to the conservatory renewal, which Halvorsen said would help secure outside funding. The city's portion would come from the Renew Thunder Bay Fund.

The city has applied for $2.5 million to the Canada Cultural Spaces Fund (CCSF), with a response not expected until September. Applications have also been put in elsewhere, including to the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation (NOHFC), Halvorsen said.

Details on the recommendation are included in a report from administration that will be released later this week, ahead of city council's meeting on Monday.

Coun. Shelby Ch'ng, whose Northwood ward includes the conservatory, said she anticipates majority support to renew the amenity on Monday.

The investment will result in operational savings, she noted, and the second-term councillor wasn't bothered by the hike in the project's price tag.

It's a good environment in which to move forward with infrastructure investments in general, she said, with interest rates low and post-pandemic infrastructure funding expected to flow from upper levels of government.

Coun. Brian Hamilton, who has advocated for the invesment and whose McKellar ward borders the conservatory, said he’ll be happy to support moving the project forward.

The investment is in line with city plans including the Chapples Master Plan, he said, and has considerable community support.

Though he believes it's a good candidate for external funding, the city should go ahead even without that support, he said.

“Should that funding not materialize, where do we go from here?" he asked. "We had the same issue with the multi-turf facility… and council was ready to move forward on a project ten times the size.”

"I’m of the mind that council should be mindful of the overall price, and plan for that in case that funding doesn’t materialize. I don’t want to get halfway through this project and then fall short.”

Investing in renewal of the conservatory shouldn't come at the expense of other infrastructure priorities like roads and bridges or addressing lead water pipes, Hamilton said.

He believes the city could find adequate funding for the full amount through sources like the Renew Thunder Bay Fund and additional Federal Gas Tax dollars received during the pandemic, without dipping into base infrastructure funds.

The motion is likely to find support around the council table on Monday, he believes.

Council approved $1.8 million in spending last year to replace two production greenhouses that support the conservatory and municipal planting beds.

At the time, several councillors said it would make little sense to upgrade those facilities without also renewing the conservatory.

Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the conservatory is located in the McKellar Ward. In fact, it falls within the Northwood Ward. TBNewswatch apologizes for the error.