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Conservatory reopens as renewal work delayed

Thunder Bay’s botanical conservatory will reopen to the public, with city staff saying supply chain challenges will delay a major revamp until next year.
The Centennial Botanical Conservatory will reopen on Monday. (File photo)

THUNDER BAY — Thunder Bay’s botanical conservatory is reopening to the public, as the city pushes back a major renovation of the facility that staff now say won’t take place until next year.

Parks manager Cory Halvorsen said despite a “strong push” to get the work done, staff concluded significant supply chain challenges raised the risk materials wouldn’t arrive in time to complete it by the end of August.

With the replacement of glazing panels exposing the conservatory’s tropical plants to the open air, he called that timing crucial.

“We have concerns about the viability of awarding the project in March/April and being able to source all of the materials,” he said in an interview.

Halvorsen said the availability of mechanical components for a replacement of the facility’s boiler and heating system posed particular challenges.

The conservatory will temporarily reopen during regular operating hours on Monday, after closing on Jan. 1. The city had announced in December the facility would likely be closed through 2023 for the planned renewal.

Halvorsen said the building will remain open until at least April, when city council is expected to consider an update on the project.

Planned work includes accessibility upgrades, reopening the conservatory's long-shuttered side wings, one of which will be converted into an event room, and replacing its glass panels and aging boiler system, both of which will bring substantial energy savings.

The first phase of the project, which involved replacing and expanding the adjacent production greenhouses, is nearly complete. The greenhouses support the conservatory as well as supplying plants for municipal flower beds, and with the added space, will grow native plants for low-impact development sites.

The full project, including greenhouse replacement, was most recently estimated at $7.5 to $8 million by staff in 2022. That rose from an estimate of below $5 million in late 2020, and an earlier figure of just over $3 million, with some of the increase related to an expanded project scope.

The city has secured $1.7 million from FedNor and $2 million from NOHFC to support the work.

Halvorsen acknowledged the risk another delay will bring more increases, but said staff concluded the risk of proceeding this year was greater, and could have resulted in a longer closure.

Still, he said staff want to “keep momentum going” on the project and will propose moving forward with some work outside of the building, such as reconstructing its parking lot.

The previous term of council approved the renovations in principle, but the new council will still need to approve a tender for the construction later this year.

That leaves council with another chance to potentially modify or cancel the project, though Halvorsen noted it has received significant external funding and community support.

Ian Kaufman

About the Author: Ian Kaufman

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