Public Works and Government Services Canada
Canada lives here
It is difficult to overestimate the significance of Canada’s iconic Parliament buildings. Parliament Hill is a symbol of national pride for Canadians and one of the most recognisable heritage sites in Canada. The buildings on the hill are a part of the fabric of our national identity. In the buildings our country is built; laws are written, decisions made that have shaped the direction of our home and native land.
The building on the west of Parliament hill is called, fittingly, the West Block (and is pictured on the back of the five dollar bill). The building houses offices for parliamentarians as well as maintained pre-Confederate spaces. Several core parliamentary offices are contained in the West Block, including Members of parliament and their support staff, committee rooms, the Confederation Room, and food production facility that provides 2,000-5,000 meals per day and caters parliamentary committees, events, workshops and receptions.
In addition to its undisputed importance in the function of government, the West Block’s architecture is also a national treasure. The first building campaign (or phase) was originally completed in 1865. Since then there have been two extensions made on the West Block’s Victorian High Gothic style which has been the glory of the Ottawa skyline for over a century.
In the early part of this decade, the West Block had began to show signs of its age; the masonry of the building is in disrepair and precautions have been taken to protect the public and building occupants from falling stone and mortar chips. The decision was made by Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC) to restore West Block to its original magnificence for the pride of existing and future Canadians and for ensuring the continued long-term operation of Parliament. In doing so, the Canadian Government, via PWGSC, is committed to demonstrating accountability by showing results and value for taxpayers.
Rebuilding Canada’s West Block
Rob Wright, Executive Director of Major Crown projects is leading the extensive, multimillion-dollar renovations to repair and prevent deterioration caused over time and through decades of enduring the famous Canadian climate. During this project, PWGSC also aims to bring the mid-19th century building up to modern safety and workplace standards. And true to the standards to which the Canadian Government adheres and the examples it wishes to set, this project will be designed to high standards of environmental sustainability.
“Rehabilitation of the West Block building adopted an integrated design process that incorporates sustainability considerations early on, including them in the decision-making process and defining clear targets for the complete building,” says Wright.
This approach includes the use of Green Globes guide as the sustainability target and which has been adapted for historical structures; the installation of energy efficient building systems and equipment that will reduce energy and water consumption; the removal of hazardous building material and the avoidance of all ozone-depleting substances; reusing existing building material wherever possible; and recycling and reusing a minimum of 75 per cent of all construction, renovation and demolition waste during the construction process.
“It is part of a multi-facet plan for rehabilitating and modernizing Parliament Hill, which will span a number of years,” he continues. The project is critical on its own as far as rehabilitating a critical heritage asset and making the whole long-term vision work.
Design work has already begun on the Bank of Montreal, and studies are being conducted currently to determine the vastness of the project and work necessary. By fall of this year, the design will be in place to revitalize this historic section of the West Block. La Promenade building is also scheduled to be completed in early 2010, and employees and guests will be provided with space while the East Block and Centre Block.
“Most of the rehab projects in the long-term serve these dual purposes in the sense that we are dealing with 19th century buildings that haven’t been restored for over 50 years. They need to be rehabbed because they are facing severe deteriorating and their building systems are outdated and obsolete. They need to be modernized to meet the requirements of a 21st century parliamentary democracy. Layered on top of that is a domino sequence of moving occupants and functions from one building to another. We are now at a critical milestone where we can empty the west block and coming to completion in fall, 2010.”
“The West Block is the first building in Canada that is being brought up to the 2005 building seismic, which proved to be a bit of a challenge because there wasn’t a lot of information on what would be the best approach to do that,” says Wright. “We could rely on expert advice from our consultants, but we thought it would be a much better approach to use some evidence-based research so in partnership with the Intelligent Sense for Innovative Structure (ISFIS) Canada Research Network, and three universities, in sending three masons and building replicas with the same materials and same construction approaches. We used different reinforcement technologies in each replica and then we hooked up to a number of monitors to track performance and to reform our approach, so this provided a lot of good information. In reaching out with the private sector and partnership with the academic community, we used their expertise to address a key technical challenge that we were facing.”
According to Wright, “Ten years ago, independent building assessments found that four out of the seven building systems in the West Block were exhibiting critical risks of failure. The building is expected to reach total failure by 2013. The main element of concern is the serious deterioration of the structural load-bearing masonry.”
These assessments showed that the Centre Block is similarly at risk, but the main element of concern is the building systems: mechanical, electrical, life safety and elevators. It is expected that the Centre Block will reach a risk of total failure by 2019. Herein lays the critical nature of the West Block renovations: the building will host the House of Commons on an interim basis, paving the way for the “rehabilitation” of the Centre Block by housing its functions.
“In the context of delivering several major projects on Parliament Hill, 2019 is not far off,” says Wright. “We need to complete the West Block and the East Block so that we can empty the Centre Block and address these issues before 2019.”
The total cost approved for the West Block project is $769.2 million, obtained in 2005, was reviewed and allocated by the Treasury Board as implementation proceeds. The budget is set aside in the fiscal framework and will be drawn against only as needed. This is conducive to the PWGSC’s reputation for “strong results in project management and project delivery,” as recognised by the Auditor General, who also noted that the Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office has commended the West Block project “for showing great respect for the heritage character of the building.”
“We are always looking for ways to mitigate not only risks, but potential opportunities and understanding where the critical path is. By having that dynamic approach, that’s how we found these opportunities to accelerate the West Block,” says Wright.
Long-term vision and plan
To coordinate and regulate the approach for the multi-year restoration project, a Long Term Vision and Plan (LTVP) for the Parliamentary Precinct was established. “The first priority of the LTVP is the rehabilitation of the core historic buildings,” says Wright. The West Block Program is the critical first step in implementing the Plan and it sets the groundwork for a series of projects over time, like the creation of new parliamentary space, both on and off the Hill for relocation. Wright concludes that because of this, the West Block will be ready to empty shortly, in the fall of 2010—four years ahead of schedule.
Despite these accomplishments, Wright acknowledges the small sector of the population who question the dollar amount of the project. To this, he responds “Parliament Hill is a symbol of national pride for Canadians and one of the most significant heritage sites in Canada. Maintaining the distinctive neo-gothic architecture of the buildings and at the same time bringing them up to modern building codes has required a rare combination of artisans, stone masons, and all manner of skilled workers working with scientists and experts in technology to do seismic upgrades, integrate modern computer systems and more.”
“Restored to their former glory”
“When the renovations are finished, the Parliament Buildings will be restored to their former glory and continue to impress Canadians and visitors for years to come,” Wright continues. “The Parliament Buildings are a symbol for Canada. We take pride in them today, and we will be able to take pride in them in the future.”
The PWGSC is rightly proud of the progress they are making. With the West Block expected to be completed by 2018, the Southeast Tower being completely rehabilitated and rehabilitation of the North Towers which is now underway. “We are in the final design stage for the overall rehabilitation and construction of the courtyard infill,” says Wright, “which will provide temporary accommodation for the House of Commons Chamber during the rehabilitation of the Centre Block.”
The “stem to stern renovation” of the West Block is a complex project, essentially calling for the buildings to be taken apart before they can be put back together. The PWGSC have a plan and vision to restore these building back to their former brilliance, and are providing an integral service to the country.