Senate to take over Government Conference Centre till 2028
BY DAVID REEVELY, OTTAWA CITIZEN MAY 16, 2013 12:31 PM
OTTAWA — The Senate expects to move in to the Government Conference Centre by the Rideau Canal in 2018 and stay there for 10 years while the Red Chamber’s part of Centre Block is renovated, say documents posted to the federal government’s online bulletin board for contractors.
Ottawans who want the former train station turned into a public space can forget it till at least 2028, and probably longer.
The Senate’s administrators are seeking a security firm to conduct a “threat assessment” of the century-old building and recommend what needs to be done it keep it safe for the upper house, whose facilities are to be fixed up as part of a billion-dollar overhaul of Parliament Hill. The temporary tenants include the Senate chamber itself, plus offices, meeting rooms and facilities for security and food services.
“In the longer term, it can be assumed that the building would revert to its use as a government conference facility, such that compatibility with this use and or reversibility of proposed interventions is an important criterion to consider in option development and selection,” the documents say.
The conference centre is one of the dead zones along Wellington Street Mayor Jim Watson points out when he talks about how the federal government has turned the district near Parliament into a dead zone — along with the empty former National Capital Commission information centre, the former U.S. embassy, and federal office buildings that have workers inside but don’t do anything for the streetscape. The federal government took the former train station over in the 1970s and uses it for big gatherings of public servants and occasional semi-public events like news conferences and open NCC board meetings.
Former prime minister Jean Chrétien wanted to turn it into a museum of Canadian political history but his successor Paul Martin kiboshed the idea. More recently, the city proposed at least linking the conference centre directly to the planned light-rail lane that’ll run practically underneath the building; the federal government said no.
At last report, in December, the Senate was due to move into the East Block on Parliament Hill in about 2017 as part of an emptying of Centre Block, where it and the House of Commons usually meet. With the middle building cleared out, a major renovation can take place. The Parliament Buildings are in terrible shape and experts who’ve worked on them say Centre Block could practically start falling apart in 2019 without the planned repairs.
Public Works is in charge of the massive project — work on buildings excluding Centre Block is expected to cost $1.6 billion, with estimates for repairs to the crown jewel yet to come. The department didn’t immediately respond to the Citizen’s inquiry about what changed in the plans for the Senate and why. This story will be updated with any answer.
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