THUNDER BAY — A consultant's recommendation that the Thunder Bay Centennial Conservatory be closed as part of a series of cost-cutting measures has left the Friends of the Thunder Bay Conservatory expressing frustration.
Volunteer Coordinator Marilyn Stinson says the proposal is extremely disappointing for supporters and users of the Dease Street facility.
"We've been fighting for several years to get things moving with fixing up the conservatory, and the growing greenhouses which are an integral part of it, and it seems that every time we think the city is starting to move forward a little bit, then it's another slap in the face," Stinson said Monday.
City council will take a first look at the results of Grant Thornton's review of city programs and services when it meets Monday night.
The consultants say that closing the conservatory will result in annual savings of $230,000 and eliminate the need for an estimated $2.1 million to $3 million in improvements.
Stinson said Friends of the Conservatory will lobby vigorously against its closure, because it serves a unique role in the community.
"This is a facility that every single person in the district can make use of. With so many things, only a limited number of people can use them, but this is for everybody," she said.
"People come with their infants. They bring their elderly parents. People who have mental health issues come there for some tranquility. It's soul-soothing. People with physical limitations can come there. It doesn't matter your age or your physical ability," Stinson said.
She said the conservatory sets no barriers related to one's financial status, either.
"That's a huge one. There's a lot of amazing projects, but art galleries are not something for everybody. Not everyone can afford, or make use of sports facilities financially, physically, or age-wise."
Stinson has a theory as to why the conservatory in recent years has become a target for cost-cutting.
"I think it's because it's not a shiny new project. It seems that maintaining things that have been around but are wearing out, there's no big glory in that" for council, compared with something that's "new and beautiful and wonderful," she said.
Friends of the Conservatory, Stinson said, are receiving lots of support from community members on social media.
"We all understand that the city's finances are tight. None of us want our taxes going up. We know that COVID is going to hurt everybody. But we're really concerned this will be just one more excuse to shut down facilities that are free for the citizens, at a time when they need them more than ever before," she said.
A separate report on the conservatory prepared for city council only a few months ago detailed the repairs that are needed but also offered ideas for new amenities to attract more users, such as a coffee bar, an events room and educational programming.