'A step backwards': Saskatoon greenhouse closure could harm green infrastructure strategy
The former director of planning with the city is mourning the loss of the city-operated greenhouse and what its absence could mean moving forward.
“The ability to mitigate the effects of climate change and be resilient to climate change is going to depend on our ability to grow things, and losing the greenhouses is a step backwards, not a step forward,” Alan Wallace said.
A report before the city’s standing policy committee on planning, development and community services on Wednesday says the city will no longer supply its own flowers and plants for flowerpots and garden beds because the greenhouse is on the verge of being condemned.
The city’s parks department has run the greenhouse at the Vic Rempel Yards since 1958, but the building will need to be vacated soon due to escalating structural concerns, city administration explained.
Wallace, who was the city’s director of planning and development from 2012 until he left the field to begin consulting in 2016, said green infrastructure will only become more important as climate change and its potential effects become more apparent.
“It's a shame to see any city lose a part of its green infrastructure,” Wallace said. “I can understand why they did it for cost reasons, but it may have implications down the road.”
Konrad Andre, manager of parks operations who wrote the report, says an engineering assessment outlined concerns about rotting wood components, cracking and falling glass and snow loads in the winter.
“While not condemned, risk is increasing and an order to vacate immediately could occur at any time, including when the greenhouse is fully stocked with seasonal material.”
Darren Crilly, the director of the city’s parks department said employees are left with no choice but to leave the building, which could happen at any time.
The city has left a capital project to replace the greenhouse unfunded since 2016. According to the administration report, replacing the greenhouse could cost between $2.5 million to $6 million.
With no plans in place to fund a new greenhouse facility, the city has chosen to buy its seasonal plants from private growers for 2023. The report says the city has secured a “competitive bid” with the costs being offset because of operational changes elsewhere.
Crilly remains adamant that no service level disruptions will happen this year, with the program set for re-evaluation by September to outline the results of 2023 and future recommendations moving forward.
“All of the city departments are challenged to provide services at the most cost-effective and efficient manner possible,” Crilly said.
“We have compiled very stringent specifications around the quality of plant material, the timing of plant material, and we continue to communicate with private industry to ensure that those specifications are met.”
For staff, leaving behind a 65-year-old building is not going to be easy.
“There is a level of sympathy around the greenhouse structure and the great plants that our team produces,” Crilly said.
However, Wallace is concerned what that could mean for the beautification of Saskatoon.
“I think what's important is to maintain those service levels for two reasons, the beautification and the green infrastructure,” he said.
While planting flowers and plants may not seem like a worthwhile discussion come budget time, Wallace says the small flowers go a long way to helping attract people to Saskatoon.
"Saskatoon is known as the Paris of the Prairies, Saskatoon the beautiful. I mean, we've had a number of nicknames that have spoken to the attractiveness of this city and you just don't want to see infrastructure that contributes to that being lost,” Wallace said.
The greenhouse is also home to an assortment of plants that were removed from the former civic conservatory at the Mendel building, according to the report.
Whether it be the Banana Tree or the Fat Pork Plant that was viewed by thousands at its former home, the report outlines how some of the plants of “sentimental and/or community value” be moved to other public buildings.
“It should be noted that outside of a greenhouse environment some plant material will be at a higher risk of decline and potentially death,” Andre said.
The report also says Saskatoon and Edmonton are the last remaining major cities on the prairies to grow most of their seasonal plant material at a civic greenhouse.
Based on how the outsourcing process goes, council could decide to put the greenhouse program to bed for good by the end of summer 2023.
—With files from Rory MacLean.
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