Thunder Bay

Council to hear recommendation to re-invest in Thunder Bay Conservatory

A report headed to Thunder Bay city council on Monday night makes a completely different recommendation than what a consultant told city council just weeks earlier: reinvest in the Thunder Bay conservatory.
A report from city administration says repairs to the Thunder Bay Conservatory should be included in the 2021 budget. Repairs include new glazing, heating, structural work, and replacing the greenhouses behind the public building. (

A report headed to Thunder Bay city council on Monday night makes a completely different recommendation than what a consultant told city council just weeks earlier: reinvest in the Thunder Bay Centennial Botanical Conservatory.

The report, prepared by the city's manager of parks and open spaces, noted the facility, which has been partially closed since 2012 for safety concerns, saves the city money in operating costs.

The main building, flagged eight years ago for having structural issues when the glass was falling from the building's ceiling, needs between $2.6 million and $3.1 million in work.

The scope is wide, including new glazing, a new HVAC system, asbestos abatement, a new drainage system under the tropical display, and structural work to the east and west wings of the building, to allow the public in again.

Other changes include creating an area for a coffee bar, which could bring in some revenue to the facility.

Council did agree in 2012 to move forward with a strategy for the conservatory and its associated facilities, but to date, only ongoing maintenance has been undertaken at the buildings.

The conservatory was opened in 1967 as a Centennial project with the City of Fort William.

Upgrades to the heating and cooling systems would save the city $90,000 a year in maintenance and operating costs, the report said.

Other greenhouses included

The cold frame greenhouse, a structure at the rear of the conservatory, grows plants used in the city's low impact developments (LID), which hold back storm water to help reduce the risk of flooding across the city.

The report noted the $75,000 investment in replacing that structure would be fully offset by the value of the specialized plants grown. The cost of replacing the exterior plastic and concrete footings could be completely paid off within a year, the report noted.

Using city staff to grow the plants, as well as install them at the city's LID areas will reduce operating costs by about $120,000 annually.

Additional greenhouses, behind the main public conservatory building, require about $1.6 to $1.8 million in work. Those three buildings are used to grow 64,000 plants each year, with most being annuals for flowerbeds for the city's parks.

The price tag includes rebuilding the structures, meant to last about 30 years, and will also automate heating and cooling systems. The automation should reduce staffing costs by $12,000 annually.

If those greenhouses are not rebuilt, the city would have to hire private businesses to grow flowers. The cost of privatizing the service, which would include flower bed maintenance, would cost the city an additional $83,000 per year.


Jeff Walters

Former CBC reporter

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Jeff worked in his hometown, as well as throughout northwestern Ontario.


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