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House on Hill: a primer on multi-billion-dollar renovations of Parliament Buildings

Liberal MPs Yvonne Jones, Scott Simms, Kate Young, and David Lametti are currently packing up their East Block offices and will be among the Wellington Building’s first new residents this month. Overall, the Liberals are expected to get 39 offices, the Conservatives roughly 20, with nine for NDP MPs. The Hill Times Photograph by Jake Wright
The sights and sounds of construction have become a normal part of life on Parliament Hill after already more than a decade of ongoing work, which officially began in 2001 with the renovation of the Library of Parliament and will have cost an estimated $3-billion by the time Centre Block is emptied for renovations in 2018.
“It’s going very well,” said Ezio DiMillo, director general of the Long Term Vision and Plan with the Parliamentary Precinct branch of Public Services and Procurement Canada, in a recent interview with The Hill Times, adding all projects are “on time and on budget.”
Returning MPs will likely “appreciate the fact that a lot of the blasting and hoe-ramming that we were doing during the summer is pretty much done,” he said, meaning significantly less noise to potentially distract those working on the Hill.
“There’ll be some compaction that [still] has to be done around the Visitor’s Welcome Centre for sure [in October], but I think there was great co-operation there and we managed to work through that last year,” said Mr. DiMillo.
After work on the historic Library of Parliament—the only part of the original Centre Block building to survive the 1916 fire—wrapped up in 2006, the Valour Building on Sparks Street and offices in 131 Queen St. went under the hammer, in part to be prepped as interim space for when work on the West Block began in 2011.
Similarly, committee rooms at 1 Wellington St. have been modernized, and in 2015 the newly-renovated Sir John A. Macdonald building opened up.
Those buildings cost $23.6-million and $99.5-million, respectively, to renovate. In total, as of March 2016, $2.2-billion has been spent on Hill renovations since 2001—with another $800-million in already-approved funding to go up to 2018. In all, 21 projects have been completed since 2006.
The cost for renovating Centre Block and other future projects—including the overall renovation of the East Block—has yet to be finalized and approved.
A final end to Hill construction is still far off on the horizon, set to surpass the complete renovation of Centre Block, roughly slated to end in 2029.
After work on these projects, other buildings are still in need of an overall face-lift, including the Justice Building and the Confederation Building, which have already undergone some smaller upgrades like the installation of new windows, as well as the rehabilitation and re-purposing of the old U.S. Embassy at 100 Wellington St.

The Wellington Building

Aside from minor touch-ups, the Wellington Building at 180 Wellington St. is now complete and was officially handed over to the House of Commons management on Sept. 9.
It’s been under construction since April 2010, with renovations—including asbestos abatement, a full seismic upgrade, restoration of a 1920s Byzantine-style golden mosaic in the lobby, and a complete modern fit-up—costing roughly $425.2-million in all.
Wellington Building 2016

A shot of lobby space in the Wellington Building near its Sparks Street entrance. (The Hill Times Photograph by Jake Wright)

The building includes 70 parliamentarian offices, 10 committee rooms, a cafeteria, and a brand new two-storey height Library of Parliament branch (featuring a skylight) set to open for use in January 2017, with commercial spaces lining the ground floor along Sparks Street.
Wellington Building 2016

The Wellington Building, as seen from Wellington Street. (The Hill Times Photograph by Jake Wright)

A new steel canopy has been installed over the building’s Wellington Street entrance—an original feature of the former Metropolitan Life Insurance headquarters, completed in 1926.
Occupants will begin moving in this month, with office space being divvied up based on party standings in the House of Commons and respective party whip staff currently planning who goes where, and when.
Liberal MPs Yvonne Jones (Labrador, Nfld.), Scott Simms (Coast of Bays-Central-Notre Dame, Nfld.), Kate Young (London West, Ont.) and David Lametti (LaSalle-Émard-Verdun, Que.) are currently packing up their East Block offices and will be among the Wellington Building’s first new residents this month. Overall, the Liberals are expected to get 39 offices, the Conservatives roughly 20, with nine for NDP MPs.
As well, plans indicate a security operations centre for the parliamentary precinct protective services will go in the building’s basemen, as previously reported by The Hill Times. The heritage building has achieved a Green Globes eco rating equivalent to LEED Silver standard, according to PSPC, and includes a green wall in the lobby and solar panels on its roof, among other features.

The West Block 

Having been emptied for construction back in early 2011, work on the West Block building is moving along, with the white steel skeleton for the glass-domed roof which will top the building’s courtyard set to be finished in mid-November.
Over the summer, workers were busy rigging, hoisting and bolting into place the large steel beams, with roughly 1,800 pieces of steel, 5,000 assemblies (which would stretch roughly seven kilometers if placed end-to-end), and 30,000 bolts making up the skeleton. The last steel beam is set to be hoisted into place on Sept. 23, with some bolting and other work still to follow.
 Once that’s complete, Mr. DiMillo said a “weather-proof platform” would be installed underneath that structure, above the courtyard, “so that workers can then begin to work on the actual Chamber itself.” In January, installation of double-glazed glass on the roof is set to begin. Thanks to technology-aided pre-planning of the steel installation, the pieces went “together like a Lego set, in essence,” he said.
West block construction 2016 Jake Wright

A look at the West Block’s courtyard on Sept. 15 where the interim House of Commons Chamber will be built. It’ll be in use by fall 2018. (The Hill Times Photograph by Jake Wright)

The glass roof is self-supporting, with large steel columns, or “trees,” holding it up as the heritage building would not be able to support the weight.
The House of Commons interim Chamber, which will be used starting in 2018, is going in the centre of the West Block’s courtyard, sitting at second-floor level of the building, with a committee room, a new Charles Lynch press theatre space, and work area below. The Chamber will have an open-air feel, with lobbies and an entrance area surrounding it, and galleries ringing it above.
Extensive excavation work took place below the courtyard in order to create two new basement levels, including more committee room space—for three new rooms in all—and mechanical and electrical support services.
Rehabilitation of the building is estimated to cost $862.9-million overall, including roughly $115-million for the glass-domed roof.
The interior of the main building is stripped back to bare concrete and brick walls with steel framing. Windows are also currently being installed. Asbestos abatement has been completed—with roughly 2,900 tonnes removed in all—and extensive masonry restoration work ,that included essentially rebuilding the Laurier Tower, is mostly complete. Stone carvers continue to work on restoring some of the building’s detail features.
Government offices will go on the third floor of the building, with the prime minister’s office set to go in the western Mackenzie Tower in former prime minister Alexander Mackenzie’s office. Along with MP offices, committee rooms, and a parliamentary dining room, the building will also include another permanent new Library of Parliament branch, among other things.

The underground Visitor’s Welcome Centre

West block construction 2016 Jake Wright

A look at the construction ongoing as part of the underground Visitors’ Welcome Centre. (The Hill Times Photograph by Jake Wright)

The first phase of the new underground Visitor’s Welcome Centre is well underway, with excavation work—which was the cause of the occasional booms that could be heard from the House of Commons foyer last session—now wrapped up, and a concrete and steel skeleton now in place.
In October, the structure will be ready for the pit to be filled in around the underground structure, with earth compaction set to be audible to Hill occupants. This should finished by the time the “snow hits the ground” later this year, said PSPC’s West Block senior director Rocque Gameiro during a media tour of the combined West Block and VWC site on Sept. 15.
This phase of the new structure is estimated to cost $129.9-million, and as design firm IBI/Moriyama & Teshima’s Carole Phillips highlighted to media, it’ll be the first new structure on the Hill in roughly 100 years. It will serve as the main public entrance for the building, with security screening, Library of Parliament guides, and a gift shop going in, among other services.

While previously set to be completed in three phases, the new welcome centre will now be done in two, with the second phase set to finish at the same as Centre Block, currently slated for 2029.

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