THUNDER BAY — The Centennial Botanical Conservatory is set to undergo an overhaul next year, after the City Council approved spending millions — and a tentative plan to transform the area around the facility with new plantings, trails, and water features — at a meeting Monday.
The council’s unanimous vote clears the way for construction to begin in the spring of 2024, after a false start this year.
The renovation will transform the visitor experience to the conservatory’s tropical plant displays, rebuilding and reopening side pavilions that have been closed due to damage for over a decade.
One of these pavilions will be converted into a multi-use event space, while the other will feature a cactus show and seating.
Cori Halvorsen, Director of Parks and Open Spaces, added that the renovation of the conservatory will transform the experience for visitors, allowing for dynamic new uses of space and opening it up for mobility-challenged users.
“It’s a really exciting project,” he said. “I really think it’s going to look like a new facility. We’re protecting the tropical offerings, repainting all the glass, all the walkways, all the entrances, and the floors.”
“The site itself will have multiple outdoor venues – outdoor gardens and waterways. So it will be an interactive space throughout, and we will build the activities coming from the facility itself.”
being. Andrew Foulds said the approval of funding for the conservatory meant that the legacy attraction added to celebrate Canada’s centennial in 1967 would survive for future generations to enjoy.
He joined many colleagues in giving credit for this outcome to citizens who advocated not to close it, including the Friends of the Thunder Bay Conservatory.
“It was really strong support from the community,” he said. “Unfortunately we let this project drag on for a bit, for years. And it was the friends of the conservatory who fought for it.”
The work is expected to cost $5.1 million. The city got about half of that from federal and provincial funding, and has submitted more applications.
If the city goes ahead with additional exterior improvements that staff outlined Monday, it would bring its total spending to renovate the Winter Gardens to nearly $10 million.
That represents the estimated $1.7 million price tag for the outdoor work, $4.9 million the city previously committed to rebuilding the greenhouses that feed the conservatory as well as the city’s flowerbeds and rainwater gardens.
The staff noted in a report that the renovation would also make the conservatory much more efficient, with an estimated 76 percent reduction in energy costs, saving the city about $90,000 annually, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by up to 90 percent.
Thanks in part to a new glazing that will trade in single-pane glass for insulated multi-walled acrylic panels and a new boiler.
The staff concluded that it would cost an additional $4 million to meet net-zero emissions standards, and recommended that the city evaluate the move in the next capital upgrade period in 20 to 25 years, when a move to geothermal heating could be considered.
The east and west wings of the conservatory will be completely rebuilt, after staff said costs for a new building were determined similar to the retrofitting process.
Garden doors will be added at the end of both wings to allow access to the outdoor event and garden space.
The design of the East Wing will include an open hot plate for seasonal fixtures and amenities for hosting events.
The design of the West Wing will include the refurbishment of walking paths with edging and raised walls for the planting area, providing improved arid/cacti viewing opportunities and integrated seating sites.
Both side stands have been closed since 2012 after they failed to meet building code.
Accessibility improvements include a level traverse over the pond in the main tropical viewing area, two accessible bathrooms, and entrance transitions to both wings of the building.
The conservatory’s renovation will be scheduled for completion in the spring or summer of 2025.
On Monday, the board approved a staff recommendation that $2.2 million be allocated to this work from the Renew Thunder Bay Fund.
The city continues to seek up to $2.7 million in additional funding to renovate the conservatory through the Canadian Green and Inclusive Community Building Fund.
The board also tentatively appropriated approximately $850,000 from the same fund for exterior improvements, contingent on securing matching funds from NOHFC.
Staff provided a vision of the area surrounding the conservatory including an accessible walkway and path network, outdoor classroom and event space, tree and garden beds, community gardens, water gardens and ponds integrated into the facility’s rainwater management system.
If the city succeeds in obtaining NOHFC dollars, employees said, it could start operating as soon as this fall.
Staff expressed confidence that the renovation will attract increased traffic to the conservatory and make it a more attractive venue for school trips and events including weddings.
being. Rajni Agarwal described the face-lift as an exciting “multi-generational project”, but sought assurances from employees that these changes would not rival the private sector.
“When we look to rent a tent space, this would be a nice area,” she said. “Shall we not turn away from the private enterprise, and as a city now compete with corporations?”
“I say, Hey, come and have your banquet here instead of at a hotel. Because that looks nice.”
By contrast, employees said the space would create new opportunities for local businesses.
“It’s not that we’re trying to create something new to compete with the private sector, but rather to make sure that we take full advantage of the assets that we’re renewing,” Halvorsen said. “We’re also doing it in a way that opens up opportunities for local businesses to use these spaces — so it won’t be limited to city operations.”
The idea of adding a café in the conservatory was dropped “because it would potentially result in the loss of the display area and existing functionality of the space and walkways,” the staff reported, adding that the outdoor space would create opportunities for vendors instead.