Wait, what? Explain this to me like I’m five {Planetarium Edition}

Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium – conceptual drawing

So this is the new Planetarium. It is (apparently) being built right now adjacent to the Big O and is already considerably over-budget, and won’t be open until some time in 2013.

Have you ever noticed that, in this city, nothing ever opens on time?

I passed by a new Moore’s location on Ste-Cat’s a day ago and noticed the sign saying the store would be open at the beginning of the new year. That was a month ago and it seems like it won’t be ready for a while yet). A poor example perhaps – who cares about a Moores? Better examples would be the Olympic Tower (about 10 years to complete) or the MUHC Superhospital (which is sticking to its guns design-wise, and thus will serve as a local triumph of hospital planning from the early-1980s). Behind-schedule and over-budget may as well be compounded into a new word for use in this city (behindschedoerbudge? Sounds like German!)

It’s amazing to me that the Métro was completed ahead of schedule and on-target budget wise. Keep this in mind folks – 26 stations, all independently designed, plus signalling and ventilation equipment, tunnels, access points & rolling stock all delivered in four years, my how motivated we were back then!

So why is the new planetarium over-budget? And why did they close the existing Dow Planetarium last October if the new one won’t be open until sometime in 2013? Would it not have made more sense to keep the existing planetarium open until the new one is completed? What happened to all the employees in the meantime? And was it necessary to build a new one in the first place?

Furthermore, where is Rio Tinto Alcan in all of this? You’d figure if they got the exclusive naming rights they’d be ponying up the majority of the dough, right? According to this recent Gazette article, the project is now going to cost $48 million, a 45% increase to the cost estimate from just one year ago. Moreover, the city has taken out three loans so far to finance the project totalling $48 million, above the $41.4 million price-tag touted just over a year ago.

Apparently, the new price tag reflects, among other things, adjustments for inflation, contingencies and the City’s goal to seek LEED Platinum certification. Alan DeSousa further indicated that the new facility should be able to attract 200,000 more visitors per annum than the old planetarium, and this project is part of a larger $189 million re-vamp of the ‘Montreal Space for Life’ entertainment, leisure and education complex located around the Olympic Stadium. Other parts of this major face-lift program include the Insectarium, Biodome and Botanical Gardens.

Now I’m certainly not saying we shouldn’t be investing in our leisure sites and museums – of course we should, these institutions are our pride and joy, and I would hope generations of local school children will benefit as I did from the new planetarium. But the provincial and federal governments are apparently supporting the project too – so why is the city taking on so much financial burden? And once again – what is Rio Tinto Alcan investing in the project to get the exclusive naming rights? If the City of Montréal has to pony up all the start-up funds, then we should choose a more appropriate name (at least). Is there not one single famous Montreal astronomer or astro-physicist we could name it after? Or why not name it the Galileo Planetarium, or the Kepler Planetarium of Montréal. Hell, I’d be ecstatic if they called it the Carl Sagan or Neil DeGrasse-Tyson Planetarium.

And what’s the logic behind closing the existing planetarium more than a year before the new one opens? What happened to all the people who worked there – were they fired? Is the old equipment no longer operational? Unless the building is at risk of a major structural failure, I really can’t understand why they would proceed in this manner – it should be kept open and fully operational until the opening day of the new one.

And finally, the issue of LEED platinum status. I remember discussing LEED accreditation with Jonathan Wener when I was an executive VP of the Concordia Student Union (Mr. Wener is a local real-estate magnate, the head of Canderel Real Estate and a member of the Concordia Board of Governors. From what I understand, he had something to do with the re-design of the Forum and doesn’t talk much about it these days). He was insistant that all new Concordia buildings (including the proposed conversion of the Faubourg) should be so accredited. At the time I was in full agreement – obviously all buildings should be designed to be as energy and resource efficient as possible. However, about a year ago I was attending an exhibition opening at the Canadian Centre for Architecture where I had an opportunity to discuss the matter of LEED certification with a handful of bona-fide urban planners and architects, who were all of the opinion that the LEED process is little more than a way for real-estate developers and construction firms to pat themselves on the back. In other words, environmentalism-light. I’ve heard the whole system derided as little more than green-washing for the masses.

So are we paying for four letters or are we going to have an exceptionally efficient landmark we can show off to an international audience?

Somebody please, explain this to me like I’m five.

One thought on “Wait, what? Explain this to me like I’m five {Planetarium Edition}”

  1. Can’t really awnser most of your questions, but as for the LEED certification, I stopped believing in it’s greenness when I first read this a few years back :

    The fact that the new Planetarium will be siting on two metro stations next to one of the biggest parks in the city is enough to make it greener than most LEED standalone buildings in most other parts of the country.

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