Editorial by Kathleen Ott, Photo by Teresa Kelly 

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Once again, Thunder Bay finds itself in the perpetual debate about the future of the Centennial Botanical Conservatory. While the city announced its reopening last month, the facility remains in the crosshairs for closure, as recommended by the Grant Thornton report for the City’s program and service review.

In reviewing the Grant Thornton report, $2.5 to $3 million is needed for upgrades to the conservatory, but it makes no mention of any savings that would be gained by those upgrades. The consultants did not speak to anyone at the conservatory itself—neither the supervisor nor the curator who handles the budgets and operational expenses. However, based on a recent energy audit, upgrades to the environmental systems could realize in excess of at least $90,000 in annual savings on energy and other operational costs.

Once these upgrades are completed, we then could look at ways to recoup costs and become revenue-generating. We could see the cactus room and the display wing reopened, creating an ability to rent them for events like weddings, seminars, and teaching experiences, potentially netting the city $140 per hour. For those that advocate for the contracting out of conservatory services, it costs $55,000 annually to produce flowers for use across this city. Contracting out the growing of plants has been estimated at well over $80,000, with an additional $100,000 to rent a “holding greenhouse” for the plants for two months. Financially, this makes no sense.

According to the Canadian Garden Council, garden tourism is a significant and growing part of the tourism industry; Tourism Thunder Bay must be instructed to aggressively advertise and promote the conservatory, as per the city’s strategic plan.

The garden council, along with Vancouver’s Bloedel Conservatory and their friends have offered their expertise and support to address our conservatory’s issues. Yet, in discussion with the garden council and Bloedel Conservatory, it has become apparent that the City has made no effort to avail themselves of this wealth of knowledge and experience. It seems a shame that their offers have fallen on deaf ears. The Friends of the Thunder Bay Conservatory needs volunteers, and there needs to be the development of an advisory board that would oversee fundraising efforts for the upgrading of the Centennial Botanical Conservatory, much like the Thunder Bay Art Gallery. 
We encourage everyone to watch the documentary A Promise Unfulfilled: The Thunder Bay Conservatory by Torin Gunnell. It is highly informative. In the meantime, the city needs to adopt plans for the rebuilding of the conservatory’s growing greenhouses and upgrades to the conservatory proper.  Let’s get off this budgetary merry-go-round and finally make a commitment to doing what’s right.  Let’s live up to “Superior by Nature.”