City council voted unanimously to go ahead with the revamp, which will see glass panels and an aging, inefficient boiler system replaced, the conservatory’s long-shuttered side wings reopened, the introduction of a multi-purpose event room, accessibility improvements, and more.
The significant investment will bring upwards of $100,000 a year in energy savings, city staff said, also steeply cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
City administration recommended proceeding with the project.
The project’s cost estimate of between $3.96 and $4.67 million is up from a previous estimate of $3.1 million.
That comes largely thanks to rising materials costs and the addition of an annex connecting the conservatory and production greenhouses, which would allow for the expansion of growing space and new public washrooms, among other benefits, said parks and open spaces manager Cory Halvorsen.
Council committed just a $1.4 million budget for the project on Monday, to be drawn from the Renew Thunder Bay Fund.
The city is hoping to find a significant part of the remaining funds through provincial and federal grants.
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), said Halvorsen.
However, if that funding doesn’t come through, he acknowledged the city would be on the hook for the full cost.
Council previously approved $1.8 million in spending last year to replace two adjacent production greenhouses that support the conservatory and municipal planting beds.
Those costs had also risen, and are now likely to exceed $2.5 million, noted a report from Halvorsen.
That leaves the total estimated price tag for the renewal of the conservatory and greenhouses to $7.2 million at the high end, he said.
Councillors weren’t overly phased by the cost hikes, saying the conservatory was a clear priority for council and the community.
“We’ve been talking about the conservatory for years… we’re going to do it, whether we can afford to or not,” at-large councillor Rebecca Johnson said wryly.
She argued there was little point trying to trim costs by reconsidering the scope of the project, saying the city should embrace a major revamp of the facility to get residents excited about it again.
The renewal plan includes calls for new outdoor demonstration spaces, event-hosting, and renewed promotion of the facility, for example.
“We had to go all in or out, and we decided to go all in,” agreed Coun. Albert Aiello, saying the investment's size was largely because the facility had been neglected for so long by the city.
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