For a second there, it looked like the McLaughlin Planetarium might have had a chance. When it was sold to the University of Toronto in 2009, the dome had already been closed for a decade and a half, its projector hauled off to York University, its theatre hollowed out and used by the Royal Ontario Museum to store artifacts. Then, in 2012, along came Planetarium Toronto, a group that pushed to save the structure before the ROM’s lease ran out at the end of March 2014. Eventually, they helped convince local councillor Adam Vaughan to ask that the building be considered for heritage designation, which could protect it from demolition.
So, what’s the plan now?
“It’s never going to function as a planetarium again,” says Scott Mabury, U of T’s vice president of university operations. Renderings in the master plan for the school’s St. George campus show a tall blue box where the stumpy, round planetarium is now, and the document calls for the entire building to be demolished and replaced by an 81-metre tower to be used by the university’s growing law and music faculties. Demolition remains the plan, but Mabury now says “we don’t have any specific ideas yet” for which department will move in.
Planetarium Toronto must not be happy, right?
Not a bit. Founder Philip John Kuntz says members met with U of T executives back in 2012, “but we were completely shut out of anything material. They just don’t want us there.” Meanwhile, Kuntz says, Planetarium Toronto couldn’t agree on what to fight for themselves. The group has since disbanded, and he’s moved on to creating what he calls “pop-up planetariums” for Toronto District School Board classrooms.
What about the heritage review?
It hasn’t started yet. U of T isn’t keen on it: Mabury says that if the building is designated a heritage site, it “would leave a lot of potential value for the university—and frankly, for the public—unmet…. It would be an empty shell sitting there, storing the [ROM’s] Canadiana Collection.” Still, the university doesn’t yet have the money to start moving forward on building there, even if they were allowed to—one reason, probably, that they’ve extended the ROM’s lease until March 31, 2017.
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