Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay conservatory comes out ahead in duelling reports to council

After eight years of ups and downs, the Thunder Bay Centennial Botanical Conservatory will see some major upgrades.
Kathleen Ott, the past chair of the Friends of the Thunder Bay Conservatory, is pleased the city will start to reinvest in the main tropical display, as well as the production greenhouses. (Cathy Alex/CBC)

After eight years of ups and downs, the Thunder Bay Centennial Botanical Conservatory will see some major upgrades.

A vote at Thunder Bay city council on Monday night will first see the cold frame greenhouse, followed by the production greenhouses upgraded at the facility.

Those improvements will then be followed by a reinvestment in the tropical display, which is the public portion of the facility.

The decision comes just a few weeks after an external consultant recommended closure of the south side facility, because of its cost to operate.

The decision by city council to reinvest in the conservatory, at the urging of a report from administration, comes as a relief to Kathleen Ott, the past chair of the Friends of the Conservatory.

"And I think the difference is in administration." she said, noting she has worked with a number of city staff since the condition of the facility was first brought to the public's attention in 2012.

"I think Cory Halvorsen is pro conservatory. He recognizes the need in the city, and I think that is a very big piece of the puzzle," she said, noting Halvorsen has said he is interested in working with the Friends group to revitalize the facility.

Ott said the areas on the east and west side of the public display, which houses the cactus room and seasonal displays, should be a priority.

"So, if you spent a little bit of money, and got those wings opened up, everything else I think could be put onto the backburner for a year or two, until we got funding in place, at least to do everything properly."

Ott said she liked the idea of a coffee bar, or bringing more people into the facility for educational reasons.

Although a coffee bar might be problematic, at least before upgrades are made, given previous reports have shown the infrastructure, such as the electrical, is in poor shape.

Parks and Open Spaces Manager Cory Halvorsen said he looks forward to working with the Friends group to help move the conservatory forward.

He said the confusion surrounding two reports, is understandable, as both have opposite recommendations.

"Essentially, what the difference was, is that we were able to demonstrate how the conservatory operations were integrated with planting and production. I'm not sure if those were all fully considered in the recommendations to divest," he said.

The corporate report noted the city would save $83,000 per year in operations costs by continuing to use city staff to grow flowers to be planted in the city's parks.

Work on the coldframe and production greenhouses will start in 2021, subject to budget deliberations. 

Specific recommendations for the tropical display will come to council after the 2021 budget is complete.

About the Author

Jeff Walters

Reporter/Editor

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Jeff is proud to work in his hometown, as well as throughout northwestern Ontario. Away from work, you can find him skiing (on water or snow), curling, out at the lake or flying.

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