Ontario Science Centre’s school cancels semesters for dozens of Grade 12 students

Ontario Science Centre’s school cancels semesters for dozens of Grade 12 students

Dozens of high school students from across the province who had hoped to spend a semester learning at the Ontario Science Centre have been told they won’t get that chance after the building was suddenly closed last month.

Science Centre staff notified 65 families that the Science School program for Grade 12 students had been cancelled for the next school year, leaving many scrambling to make new plans for their final high school year, and leaving questions about when the program will reopen.

“I’m curious, and science is the most efficient way to learn about lots of really cool things about our world,” said Amber King, a high school student in Ottawa who has loved experiments and hands-on learning since she was a kid.

King had been registered to join other like-minded science buffs at what she called “a cornerstone of science in Canada” in Toronto in September – until her family got word last week the program wouldn’t happen.

“It was really shocking and disappointing. I had spent so much time planning what my life was going to look like around the fact that I was going to be going to science school,” King said in an interview.

The Ontario Science Centre was suddenly and permanently closed on June 21 after the province claimed an engineering report showed problems with roof tiles made the building unsafe to occupy.

It turned out that engineering report gave other options than closure. Since then, others, including the firm that designed the building, have said that the roof could be fixed safely with reasonable measures, including cordoning off some of the building.

Shutting the building was a blow to the Science School, which had welcomed around 60 students over two semesters to the Ontario Science Centre for decades.

READ MORE: Toronto residents share memories of shuttered Ontario Science Centre

“Unfortunately, due to the closure of our building at 770 Don Mills Road, we’re unable to offer our Science School program for the 2024-2025 year. Without the interactive Science Centre as a home base, we are unable to deliver this unique program,” said spokesperson Laura Berkenblit in a statement to CTV News Toronto.

“As we plan for an interim location and our future home at Ontario Place, we will be looking at ways to deliver Science School. We appreciate the patience and understanding of all affected students as we navigate these recent changes,” she said.

It’s not clear when the program will reopen.

The province’s request for proposals for an interim location says the building should open no later than January 1, 2026. If the school is able to open then, that would be only three semesters, or around 100 students, affected.

However the RFP doesn’t mention a school directly. It says, “The tenant is considering various types of operations including, but not limited to, public-facing exhibit facilities and other related uses as required.”

Nick Gomez taught biology for three years at the Science School in the 1990s. Video footage shows Gomez explaining how ducklings imprint, using real ducks that followed the students around.

He said it was a crucial learning opportunity that allowed students to follow their passions beyond the regular curriculum. And Gomez said the province benefitted enormously because those people would go on to jobs that would advance knowledge and help people.

“To lose that is to lose something that is unique,” he said. “Children were not even an afterthought. This is a huge loss.”

One student who graduated from the Science School in 1994, Jennifer Courts Minor, showed pictures of students building and flying hot air balloons out of materials provided to them. In another, students showed off racing cars that were powered by the springs in rat traps.

“It was an amazing school,” recalled Minor. “Not even university courses could offer that experience. I think back over our class, all of the graduates, and how they became teachers, engineers, physicists, surgeons. They’re all people that are in careers that are giving back to society…to cut that program is really unfortunate.”

The province has said the cost of fixing the roof would be as much as $40 million, and $478 million to fix the building entirely.

An analysis by Elsa Lam of Canadian Architecture Magazine indicated that the cost of repairing the building could be cheaper than an interim science centre, and wouldn’t create so much disruption. Lam estimated that it would be about $24 million to tackle priority repairs to keep it open for years, and $200 million to fix the building, using previous government reports.

“It absolutely didn’t have to be this way. We could have made the necessary repairs to keep it going,” Lam said.

Some 75,000 people have written letters to elected officials to save the Ontario Science Centre.

Meanwhile, King said if she was in charge, she would reopen the Science Centre, and take advantage of the many offers of help and donations from Ontarians that have spoken up.

“I think it’s worth it. Science literacy is really important. It’s a really valuable skill to have,” she said.

Even if the Science School does find a home next year, it will be too late for King. It’s only for Grade 12 students, and by then, she’ll have graduated. 

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