After Notre Dame blaze, team heading Centre Block renovation taking stock
The Centre Block of the Parliament Buildings is shown through the Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Sunday, January 25, 2015. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand)
Published Wednesday, April 17, 2019 4:56PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, April 17, 2019 6:12PM EDT
OTTAWA – Public Services and Procurement Canada says the devastating fire that badly damaged Paris' iconic and centuries old Notre Dame cathedral this week prompted the department to pause and take stock of the measures they have in place to protect Centre Block during its likely decade-long renovation.
"Any time that an incident like this occurs, and this was a real tragedy, you obviously pause and take stock," said assistant deputy minister for the parliamentary precinct Rob Wright.
The latest estimates from France are that the historic church and widely popular tourist attraction will be closed for five or six years in order to repair the damage done by the fire that burned for hours. In Ottawa, the focus is on making sure the extensive repairs that are set to be conducted in the building seen as the crown jewel of Ottawa’s parliamentary precinct.
"We have and I'm very confident of the approaches that we've put in place to ensure that during this major restoration, modernization project that we have all the procedures and protocols in place to ensure that health and safety is the number one priority," said Wright.
Among the measures Wright referenced: immediate access for firefighters to water inside the building, and installing temporary sprinkler systems in any scaffolding that will be going up. In a written statement the department added that other fire prevention measures such as using fire-retardant materials, and installing heat detection equipment will be taken, and more closely monitored when work that creates heat or spark is being conducted.
"When you do have an emergency situation, minutes matter so we take great care to ensure that we have the belts and suspenders in place to ensure that we're able to detect, and we are able to respond if there are any issues along the way," Wright said.
MPs and Senators moved out of Centre Block at the end of last year, and into their new homes of West Block and the Government Conference Centre respectively. There, temporary House of Commons and Senate chambers have been constructed, where the legislative work of the federal government will be conducted for the next decade or so, as Cente Block gets a makeover.
The major construction and modernization project will be the first complete renovation since the building was completed in 1927. It’ll include aesthetic touchups but also ensuring the building is seismically sound, removing asbestos from the walls, and updating the plumbing.
"It is a really big challenge, because Centre Block, it's a beautiful building and it's this overlay of ornate stone and woodwork, and marble, and what we need to be able to do is get in behind all that beautiful skin if you will, and out in modern bones and joints," Wright said.
Since parliamentarians have left the building, workers have been conducting the "decommissioning" stage, essentially getting it ready for the repair work to begin.
This includes shutting off the power, IT networks, and removing as much of the artifacts and artworks as possible.
Wright said that already a lot of those key heritage pieces, like the portraits of past prime ministers have been transferred into West Block and the new Senate. Others, like the war paintings from the Senate, will be kept at the Canadian War Museum a few blocks east of Parliament Hill.
"We're going through that process of taking out all of the precious art that can be moved… and we're trying to put that into other areas so that Canadians can continue to enjoy it," Wright said. Other heritage aspects that cannot be removed, like statues, are being protected within the building.
Wright said that the team leading the Centre Block project will closely watch the Notre Dame fire investigation as it unfolds, and review any findings that come out of it whenever it concludes.
"And if there's any lessons learned we'll make sure that they’re integrated in the work that we're doing here on Parliament Hill," he said.
The total cost of what could be a more than 10-year renovation project has yet to be determined. As of last year, Treasury Board had approved $4.7 billion for renovations on Parliament Hill. Approximately $3 billion of this has been spent on preparing for Centre Block’s close, including the renovations to create the temporary House and Senate, and millions more has already been awarded for upcoming work.