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Masonry deterioration sparks review of Parliament Hill’s repair plans

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Faster-than-expected deterioration of the exterior masonry on Parliament Hill’s West Block has forced re-examination of a long-term plan for renovation and repair of a cluster of Canada’s most important heritage buildings.
Water and ice have caused substantial damage to the Parliament buildings
Water and ice have caused substantial damage to the Parliament buildings

Restoration

Work estimate at $65 million per year still not enough

OTTAWA

Faster-than-expected deterioration of the exterior masonry on Parliament Hill’s West Block has forced re-examination of a long-term plan for renovation and repair of a cluster of Canada’s most important heritage buildings.

The federal cabinet has already approved the revised plan, and Public Works and Government Services Canada expects to have a detailed plan ready to make public late this month or early in October, Daily Commercial News has been told.

Yves Gosselin, the Public Works architect who is responsible for major Crown projects on the Hill, said it was discovered a few years ago that the West Block was “undergoing a more rapid deterioration in the masonry . . . than had been previously anticipated.”

“So we’ve shifted gears . . . in order to make that the priority.”

Before anything but emergency work can be done on the building, an elaborate game of musical chairs must be played so that the work of the parliamentarians and, public officials and staffs that occupy the building can continue their work unimpeded.

It will be somewhere near the end of 2009 before the building is empty and ready to receive work crews and sometime during the 2018-2019 fiscal year before full renovation of the building is complete.

In the meantime, two towers on the building have been stabilized with a steel structure and one of them has been further protected with a weatherproof enclosure. There is overhead protection at all entrances to protect people from the risk of falling stone, and some masonry repairs are being done by EllisDon Inc.

"You could spend $300 to $500 million up there just to get the emergency work done."

Robert Watt

RJW Stonemasons

A couple of blocks away, Fuller Construction has been awarded the contract for some demolition and envelope work as the first step in renovating La Promenade building. When that building is fully renovated, people will be moved there from the West Block so work in that area can be completed.

There has been a long-term plan for what is known as the Parliamentary Precinct for a number of years – the Peace Tower and Library of Parliament were repaired and restored as part of that. But work was stopped when the present federal government decided to re-evaluate the plan in light of the rapid deterioration of the West Block.

The lengthy pause has caused unhappiness in some quarters. Some specialists in heritage preservation have said the delay was caused more by political game-playing between a Conservative-dominated House of Commons and a Liberal-dominated Senate than by any real need for a re-examination.

Robert Watt, of RJW Stonemasons and a consultant in masonry restorations, pointed out that since the work is to be done on Parliament Hill, “the speaker of the Senate and the speaker of the Commons both have to sign off on it.”

There is much more than just exterior masonry that needs repair, Gosselin said.

Electrical and mechanical systems have to be upgraded, adequate security and communications systems installed, and a lot of incidental work done because “the basic workings of Parliament now are significantly different than when those buildings were built.”

The exterior masonry work is what will be visible to the public, and doing that work, he said, is an involved process.

Working with design consultants on the West Block, a number of investigative studies were done using heritage photogrammetry, a system of very detailed, high-resolution photographs of the exterior stone.

“Then, when the drawings are prepared, there will be indications stone by stone, mortar joint by mortar joint, to show whether the mortar has to be repointed, whether stones have to be repaired or replaced with new stone of a similar nature. “It’s done in great detail.”

When the West Block is finished in about 2019, the East Block is likely to be next in line, he said, followed by the Centre Block. None of that work has been clearly defined, although more studies will be done to determine the extent of the work, he said.

That means no meaningful dollar figures are available, although Watt said he was told in 1996 that spending on the Hill restorations was expected to be $55 million to $65 million every year.

“The $65 million a year is still reasonable,” he said. “But the numbers that we hear on the grapevine to make everything right are huge.

“You could spend $300 million to $500 million up there just to get the emergency work done.”

by Korky Koroluk last update:Oct 29, 2007

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