Parliament Hill renovation costs climb past $1 billion

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The cost of renovating and rebuilding the historic Parliament Hill buildings has climbed to a minimum of $1 billion, according to Public Works budgets and plans.

The latest estimates the department provided to The Canadian Press do not include additional costs for major repairs to the Centre Block, where corner towers are already bound by steel cables to prevent possible collapse.

Ottawa - The cost of renovating and rebuilding the historic Parliament Hill buildings has climbed to a minimum of $1 billion, according to Public Works budgets and plans.

The latest estimates the department provided to The Canadian Press do not include additional costs for major repairs to the Centre Block, where corner towers are already bound by steel cables to prevent possible collapse.

The entire renovation project will not be complete for more than a decade, according to the latest timetable.

In the meantime, tourists might want to be cautious.

High wire fencing has been erected at a north corner of the Centre Block to prevent Hill pedestrians and visitors from coming too close to crumbling mortar and the danger of falling bits of stone from the walls and towers.

The southeast corner of the West Block has been shrouded in white all-weather construction sheeting for more than a year.

For the second summer in a row, brown see-through webbing is wrapped around other towers, looking like giant nylon socks over stone.

The webbing is also a protection against crumbling mortar and stone.

A veteran heritage architect blames slow progress on the fact that Parliament and the government of the day, not Public Works, controls the purse strings.

"It's delayed by the politics of the thing," says Ken Elder, retired after a lifelong career as a federal government heritage architect.

"The change of governments, and each one hasn't got a majority, and they stall and wait; this is way overdue. Public Works can jump up and down and say 'this needs doing and that needs doing,' but ultimately it's the Hill that decides what goes on there."

Though they look like gigantic elastic bands, the steel cables strung around most of the towers, holding large planks onto the cornerstones, are crucial.

"They could collapse onto the roof and come through," says Elder.

"Ultimately, it's an eyesore, you want those things gone, you want them permanently stabilized and restored. This is your nation's capital and it doesn't look good if it's a constant work site."

Public Works responded in an e-mail that "safety is a top priority for the Government of Canada, as well as for the House of Commons and the Senate (and) depending on the specific condition of a structure, cables, netting and other mitigation measures are installed."

New Democrat MP Pat Martin says rain and moisture incessantly leak through the stone walls outside his West Block corner office, blistering interior drywall, which is constantly patched and than patched again after more weathering.

"Our Parliament buildings are a national treasure, but they've suffered terribly from decades of neglect," he says. "Successive governments have lacked the courage to do necessary repairs."

Elder says long-overdue renovations of the Centre Block could add another $500 million to the cost of the project.

Public Works would only release a preliminary budget of $821.5 million the government has approved for restoration of the 19th-century West Block, saying it is premature to "speculate" on costs for the other two buildings. The department says completion of the West Block renovations and further work on the East Block - which includes the room where prime minister Mackenzie King's war cabinet met more than a half-century ago - will not be complete until the year 2020.

It is not until then, with new temporary chambers for the House of Commons and the Senate constructed in the courtyards of the East Block and the West Block, that the long-overdue renovation of the Centre Block can begin, according to Public Works.

In 1998, then Liberal public works minister Alfonso Gagliano estimated the renovations for all three buildings would cost $483 million and take until this year to complete.

Elder said the East Block renovations will likely be a further $200 million in addition to the West Block costs.

Organizations: Public Works, Centre Block, Canadian Press House of Commons

Geographic location: Ottawa, Canada

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