The Telegram (St. John's)
Centre Block restoration to cost up to $5 billion by 2031-32
OTTAWA — The rehabilitation of Parliament’s Centre Block will cost between $4.5 billion and $5 billion when it is complete in a decade’s time, the government says.
The Centre Block, “is a national icon that needs to be protected so that it can serve our parliamentary democracy into the next century,” Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand said at a media briefing.
“I can tell you that this work requires significant investment, but it is a necessary one.”
The Centre Block cost estimate was done by an independent third-party, in keeping with “industry standards and best practices,” Anand said.
It’s the first time the government has said how much the Centre Block work will cost and when it will finish, a project that its manager, Rob Wright, called the “largest and most complex heritage rehabilitation ever seen in Canada.”
“The Centre Block is the apex project in the government’s effort to restore and transform the Parliamentary Precinct into a modern, integrated campus,” said Wright, assistant deputy minister, Science and Parliamentary Infrastructure.the cost estimate was derived, in part, by the massive remodelling of the West Block, now the temporary home of the House of Commons until Parliamentarians return to the Centre Block, likely in 2032. The West Block work cost $1.14 billion in 2021 dollars and Centre Block is about 3.5 times larger, Wright said.
Part of the reason for the $500-million wiggle room in the estimate comes from the COVID-19 pandemic. While the pandemic has caused some additional costs, it has also shown how important the technology upgrade will be.
“It is occurring in a time when we are thinking about the COVID-19 pandemic and the technological requirements that it has placed on the way in which Parliament functions,” Anand said. “The West Block restoration has shown us the benefits of technological upgrades that will also be in place when we do the restorations to the Centre Block.”
While the Centre Block was beautiful to look at, “its facilities were critically outdated and its systems were failing,” Wright told reporters. The harsh Ottawa climate has shattered stonework, allowing water in that rusted out the supporting structural steel. Rusted pipes burst and leaked and the building’s electrical system was inadequate for modern purposes.
Since the renovations began more than two years ago, workers have literally taken the building “down to the studs,” he said.
The work will transform the Centre Block “from one of the government’s worst greenhouse gas emitting buildings into a carbon neutral facility.”
The Centre Block’s interior courtyard, previously unusable space, will be enclosed to create more public areas, much as was done across the lawn during the seven-year West Block restoration. A new, central below-ground entrance will feature an expansive public welcoming area with skylights looking up toward the Peace Tower. Parliamentarians will enter one level below that while the third and lowest level entrance will be used for general building services.
The government enlisted the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada to provide independent advice on the design, highlighted in a video PSPC uploaded to Youtube.
“It helped us find a point of balance between restoring this heritage masterpiece and modernizing for the 21st century Parliament and making it more open and accessible for all,” Wright said.
The Centre Block work is expected to be complete some time in 2030 or 2031, he said. A further year of testing and training will be needed before MPS, Senators and their staff can return, he said.