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View Bruce Stanton Profile
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Good morning, colleagues.
As you know, I'm reporting here today as the chair of the long-term vision plan working group. I'm joined here again by officials who are on this project on a daily basis. We have Susan Kulba, with digital services and real property section here in Parliament; and Rob Wright and Jennifer Garrett from PSPC.
To update you on essentially two main points that arose out of our meeting on February 5, the first is to share some costing information that has been shared with the working group from PSPC, and, secondly, to put in front of you our recommendation for a concept design option for the main entry to the Parliament welcome centre.
Before we go to those, I want to give you a few little photos of a presentation on the progress of construction, which continues to move along well and remains on track with respect to all of the project plans.
On the first item, PSPC presented their approach to establishing a full costing for the Centre Block project. They outlined the key project decisions that have been made so far that have impacted the overall costs, including preserving the existing size or footprint of the House of Commons, for example, the size of the Parliament welcome centre, and things like the proposed use of the existing light courts and light wells.
To build on this, they went on to itemize some of the remaining decisions that will further add to the accuracy and overall costing of the project.
To give you an idea of where the project is currently, in terms of expenditures relative to budget, the initial allocation for Centre Block was $655 million. This was for the five-year period, fiscal 2017-18 through until fiscal 2021-22. To date, $150 million of that $655 million has been spent, and that has been used to enable the design and construction activities, including interior demolition work and the abatement of hazardous materials.
With regard to the second part of that budget relating to the Parliament welcome centre, an initial budget of $106 million was allocated, again for the same five-year period, 2017-18 through to 2021-22, the next fiscal year. To date, out of that $106 million, $35 million has been spent, and that's been used to essentially complete all of the design elements as well as to begin the excavation activities.
As a final note on the cost side of this equation, decisions have been taken that have helped to put some precision around these costs. I point to a decision, first of all early on, when, as an example, the House of Commons chamber was established with a decision not to make it any bigger than it currently is—to keep the existing footprint. That essentially avoided a cost of an extra $100 million, had we chosen to expand it.
Secondly, on the Parliament welcome centre, you will recall that we opted for the medium-size approach to the welcome centre, and that was $120 million less than had we gone for the larger welcome centre.
Public Services and Procurement Canada, or PSPC, will stay in touch with its parliamentary partners to make the other important decisions this spring. Turner & Townsend will complete the construction cost estimates and benchmarking reports, after which we will have more information for you.
We also received an update from Centrus, the architectural firm responsible for the Centre Block, on its work since the fall to refine the access strategy for the Parliament welcome centre.
Indeed, you may recall that we have used an independent design review panel, or IDRP, to provide advice during the development of this important part of the project. This committee is comprised of reputable professionals in the design community who have experience with issues related to the project.
It was created last fall by PSPC, with the support of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, to provide an independent assessment of the main entry project. This entry and its location are extremely sensitive from a heritage perspective and given their potential impact on the front lawn of Parliament.
After considering the review panel's concerns and suggestions, Centrus officials presented us with various options for the central entry, and then indicated which one they preferred and which received unanimous consent from the panel members. They liked the simplicity and elegance of this option and the way it mitigates the impact on the heritage elements surrounding it.
The preferred option locates an entrance on either side of the central stair. You'll see before you on slide 4 a plan view of what we mean, with an added pathway on each side departing from the central walkway as you approach the central stairs, each leading directly to each new entrance.
The geometry of the paths themselves is drawn from the existing geometry. You'll see that the pathways, the symmetry or the geometry, if you will, of the paths on either side of the walkway very much mirror the approach taken by the Pearson-designed entrances under the Peace Tower.
Some advantages of these entrances are the fact that they're visible. Each of them will be visible from the central walkway, so it's an intuitive and easily understood pathway for visitors who have never been to the Hill before. It's a gentle slope towards the new entrances, so these will be ramps that help improve accessibility and will not require handrails. Thirdly, the entrance design is simple and is accomplished with as little intervention into the heritage features and materials as possible. There's minimal impact on the use of the lawn that is enjoyed by so many for activities throughout the year.
We as a working group had the opportunity to ask questions and have a discussion with the IDRP to understand and explore the design that they had presented, and we are satisfied and believe that the proposed option responds to any concerns as to how the entrance might interfere with or encroach upon the front lawn and that it meets the operational requirements of the Parliament welcome centre.
Based on the merits of the proposed option, the working group recommends that your board endorse this design option for the central entry to the welcome centre.
I'll welcome any questions or suggestions the board may have on those concept options.
Our next steps will be to review the key elements of the decisions advocated by PSPC in order to establish the basic costing. After reviewing each of these key elements, we will make recommendations and seek your advice.
We will also be meeting with our Senate colleagues in the coming weeks to discuss the proposal to fill the skylights in the Centre and East Blocks, and we will inform you of the outcome of our discussions.
I thank you for your attention, and I'm happy to take any questions that you may have.
View Bruce Stanton Profile
Good morning.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I'm delighted to be here today.
I'm joined by Susan Kulba, who is the DG and chief executive architect on the House administration side, as well as Rob Wright, assistant deputy minister with PSPC for the science and parliamentary infrastructure branch.
I'm here today as the chair of the LTVP working group, to update the board on our work since our last meeting, and will be seeking your support for the design direction regarding four areas: the lobbies, the galleries, the west light court, the west foyer light well, and a potential increase in space in the centre light court.
I'll also update you on two subjects regarding the independent design review panel and the issue of outreach to parliamentarians. I'll comment briefly on those last two items first.
On October 28, we discussed a plan for the engagement with our working group and the independent design review panel, IDRP, regarding the entrance to the Parliament welcome centre.
The IDRP is an eminent group of Canadian architects with extensive experience on projects of this nature. The working group had an opportunity to meet with them by Zoom on November 6, and we found their expert advice to be informative, helpful and consistent with the working group's opinion on things like the entrance design and retention of the front lawn and the Vaux wall.
We conveyed the importance of the House of Commons as a complex functioning workplace for parliamentarians, which also greets hundreds of visitors and guests daily and serves as one of Canada's most iconic heritage buildings.
We think the panel benefited from their meeting with us, and it will contribute to the panel's discussions and advice to PSPC in the time ahead.
Secondly, at our last meeting of November 27, we reviewed several means by which parliamentarians could become more involved and informed on the pace of work in Centre Block and even some possible areas where the working group could invite direct input, before interior formats and designs are finalized.
We anticipate that parliamentarians could be informed using various communications tools— video conferences, in-person meetings when they become possible again, website presence and video, as well as through the Speaker's regular newsletters. We believe that a project of this importance, not only to this cohort of parliamentarians, but to future ones, would benefit from direct input from the people who are at the centre of this large, complex workplace and centrepiece of Canada's system of government.
Turning to the four design recommendations, I would like to now discuss the lobbies, galleries and ideas for the existing light courts.
As you all know, the government and opposition lobbies are an important space for parliamentarians. It's where we conduct our parliamentary work, meet with colleagues, and where members will usually spend at least one ten-hour sitting day per week, and occasionally much longer. It's also the gathering place for votes and question period every day, all the while being close to our whip's and House leader's team and available at a moment's notice for duty in the House.
We've seen that this space was often overcrowded, and that's before the expected growth in MP numbers over the coming five decades, when these important spaces will be under even greater pressure. So, in finding ways to address the space pressure on the lobbies, the working group was presented with, and agrees with, a plan to expand the lobbies across two floors and parts of an adjacent courtyard.
This page shows a proposed plan for both floors. The second floor exists now. More space will be added on the ground floor.
The plan will keep the lobbies at the chamber level, but expanded vertically, to the ground floor, by adding a space at least as large as the current 2nd floor lobbies, with independent stair and elevator access for the level below.
The plan also includes expanded accessible washroom space. The image shows, in the centre of the plan to the left on the ground floor, that the washrooms are between the two lobbies and are exclusively for the use of parliamentarians and ground floor lobby staff.
In relation to the lobbies, we recommend for the board's consideration a design for both the government and opposition lobbies that includes additional support space located on the ground floor and adjacent courtyard, with dedicated vertical circulation for both.
Going to the galleries, on our meeting of October 28, the House presented us with a proposed design approach for the Centre Block galleries for our review and questions. You'll see the designs. On the left are the existing galleries on the third floor, and on the right is the proposal.
We recognize that the Centre Block galleries needed to be modified to become more accessible. The current physical design is well short of national building code standards for accessibility. In fact, prior to the closure of the building there was minimal accessibility. Meeting code and accessibility standards will result in a reduction of seating capacity in the galleries from 553 seats to 296.
The working group had a really good discussion regarding the average public attendance in the galleries over the periods of time that we experienced them, the extra demand during school visits and special addresses, and comparisons with comparable parliaments and legislative assemblies.
We asked the administration to investigate the possibility of using some flexible space in those galleries so that the design of the seating would permit a scaling-up, if you will, under those special circumstances, while assuring that it meets national building code standards. In relation to the galleries, we agreed to recommend that the board endorse the proposal of a design that complies with national building code requirements for accessibility, recognizing that there will be a significant reduction of available seating and that the architects be instructed to consider flexible solutions to accommodate more visitors.
That's the second item. Now we'll move on to the west light court and the west foyer light-well.
At our November 27 meeting we agreed on a conceptual design approach and strategy for the west light court. That's what you see in front of you now. That is an image of the west light court looking south. You would see the outer wall of the House of Commons on your right, with the stained glass windows, and then the lower levels as that area or space is closed in.
The primary purpose of the light courts is to bring natural light and ventilation to interior spaces not located on an exterior facade. This is an important part of the architectural and heritage character of Centre Block. We were informed that closing in the light courts at the roof level will provide significant improvements on energy performance for the building. The proposed design would convert the larger west light court into an open, light-filled space that would provide public access to the galleries, and where visitors to the chamber could circulate between level B1—that's the main level of the Parliament welcome centre—and levels two and three in Centre Block.
It would greatly improve the circulation of the public within Centre Block, but importantly, it keeps the original architecture of Centre Block intact. It also allows the light court to continue to bring natural daylight to the chamber and other interior spaces.
There's an additional light court on the west side. It's proposed that a new glass enclosure cover what's called the west light-well. This is right above the House of Commons foyer, essentially to provide natural light in the foyer area. This would effectively restore natural light to that area, intended as part of the Beaux-Arts planning for the foyer in the original structure. You will recall that there's a beautiful heritage glass laylight in the foyer ceiling. Currently, that whole light-well is closed in, due to damage and leaking, and so on, many decades ago. The idea would be to put a covering over it that would allow natural light to be restored to that light-well.
Accordingly, the working group recommends that the board accept and adopt the proposed design approach for both the west light court, the larger one, and the west foyer light-well.
The fourth and final item is the centre light court. This is a much bigger space. In the sectional view of Centre Block, I'd draw your attention to the purple area in the middle. The centre light court spans a much wider space, and in particular, the area above the roof of the Hall of Honour. If you were going down one of the interior hallways in Centre Block on the fourth or fifth floor and looked out towards the centre light court, you would see the roof over the Hall of Honour at the third level. The idea would be to add additional floors on top of that roof that would extend right to the top on floors four, five and six, and then, of course, join the north and south hallways in Centre Block on each of those floors.
We think it's an excellent opportunity to infill the space in Centre Block to add much-needed space for parliamentarians. Up to 600 square metres of space would be added to the functioning interior space and it would be done in such a way as to not interfere or reduce in any way the natural light that comes into the building. Also, of course, as mentioned earlier, by capping over the light court and still allowing natural light, it will permit much better energy efficiency for the building.
It should be noted as well that none of this infill would do anything to interrupt the features or construction of the Hall of Honour. It would all occur above that level.
We therefore recommend to the board that the proposed infill approach be endorsed for the centre light court with the expectation that conservation principles will be respected, and of course, the working group will return to you at a later time to discuss some options for the use of that interior space.
Overall, I'd like to congratulate all the members of the working group and all the parties for their contribution to the work. I realize that it's important for MPs to be involved in the project.
Finally, I would like to point out that the working group plans to hold another meeting early next year. I'd be happy over the coming months to come back with further updates as our work progresses.
Thank you for your attention. I'd be happy to answer any questions you may have or to provide more details on any of the points discussed.
View Peter Julian Profile
Thank you very much.
Thank you, Mr. Stanton.
I know there's a tremendous amount of work involved, in addition to all the other hats you wear, so our thanks to you and to the team of members of Parliament working with staff on this difficult issue.
I have a number of questions, so I'll just lay them all out. I think that is easiest.
First off, in terms of the centre light court infill, you haven't mentioned what the possible use would be for that shared space. It would be helpful to have a few more details on that proposal.
On the infill courts, the west light court and the light-well, those seem to me to be no-brainers. Having had an office a number of times on that west court, I know the amount of wasted energy that is required to heat the four walls of the courtyard rather than just covering it over and using that space far more effectively. On the light-well, it never made sense to me why that was blocked in the first place. Again, there's an energy loss there, so bravo for looking at that.
My concern about the galleries, quite frankly, is that we are cutting basically in half the participation of people who are able to come directly into the House of Commons and see parliamentarians at work. As someone who comes from the far west of Canada—5,000 kilometres away—I know that when any of my constituents make their way across Canada, they want to have the full experience of our democracy, and often, they want to be able to participate in the House of Commons. That hasn't been a problem generally, but if we're cutting the number of seats in half, I think that would be. I would raise concerns about that.
Yes, absolutely we need to have the ability for people with reduced mobility and people with disabilities to be able to participate fully. There are designated spaces that could achieve that, but I'm very concerned about the cuts in the number of people who can actively participate. Could you perhaps explain a little bit more? You mentioned a scaling-up on occasion. That may happen more often than not. Particularly when we open the new building, we'll have people coming from across the country to see it. We certainly saw that with the Library of Parliament, so if you could go a little bit more into that, I would appreciate it.
I gather that a dedicated internal vertical circulation is Ottawa-speak for stairs or an elevator, and I'm wondering in terms of the lobby what that actually means. It would seem to me that given the narrowness of the lobby space, what we are actually doing is having the lobbies one floor down, and how that access up and down is achieved is important.
My final question is the most important one. What are the cost differentials in doing this? I assume from the west light court and the light-well that the energy savings will probably be far beyond the renovation costs. For some of the other things, it would be helpful for us to know at least in a ballpark way what the differential is between what would be a scaled-down version and what could be proposed. As we're going through a pandemic, most Canadians want to make sure every dollar spent is spent effectively.
Nobody wants to see a deterioration of the Centre Block. Quite the contrary, they want to see a renovation, but they don't want to see frills. We have to be very conscious of that to make sure that every dollar spent is effective.
Those are my questions. Thank you.
View Bruce Stanton Profile
Mr. Julian, as usual, you have covered all the bases here, and I'll do my best to take them one at a time.
On the centre light court additional infill of those three floors, we did look at very preliminary options as to what that would add. That is one of the things I think we would like to come back to the board with. Potentially, I don't mind saying, this would be one area where, in reference to, say, consultations with parliamentarians, it would be something that we could chat with them about as well.
We're far from a decision as to what that interior format would need to look like, but as an example, one could anticipate that on floors four and five you could add up to, say, three different office suites on each floor, an additional six offices in there. Members should know that across the entirety of Centre Block the number of offices available will be reduced for a number of reasons, so it gives an ability to sort of catch up on some of that.
The sixth floor we believe, because it will be at the top of the building, affords the possibility—and again, not finalized—of creating a space for parliamentarians to gather. Senators and members will know that there are opportunities for that. We will get back to you with that and, again, it could be the subject of some consultation.
With regard to the galleries, Mr. Julian, your concerns were shared among the working group, real concerns with the overall reduction in the number of seats in the gallery. When we looked at actual attendance in the gallery outside of question period and special events, we all know as parliamentarians that, for the most part, the 553 seats were well above what was needed.
You're right, at certain special times of the year and certainly for an address to a joint chamber, senators and parliamentarians, when you need a full gallery.... That is why the working group suggested this as an example. If you look at the east and west interior walls, you'll see in the galleries' design—opposition, government lobbies and the Speaker's gallery—that some of those spaces protrude inward into the chamber. Those would be the locations for accessible seating. There will be occasions during those special addresses, as an example, where not all of that accessible seating will be needed. Similarly, perhaps in the north gallery, the design of seating could be done in such a way that it could, as we suggest, be flexible or scale up to accommodate more persons and still meet national building code standards.
We've asked the House administration and PSPC to come back to us, in this case, the House. I think Susan's team would come back to us with some suggestions. Sure enough, we'll have fixed seating and meet all the code for 296, but maybe there's a way some of that seating could be designed so that we could scale up to some standing room or some other means to accommodate more people on those special occasions.
Finally, we'll say that the 296, relative to the number of members who are in the House, is relatively consistent with the other chambers and legislatures that we looked at as well, comparing the number of members to the number of seats in the gallery.
In terms of lobby access and the idea of having an expanded lobby area on the lower floor, you all know that essentially what's on the second floor now where the lobbies are situated will effectively stay the same, with the exception of the area that protrudes into the light court on the right-hand side. There's a little bit of expansion there that will permit elevator access, for example, and other stair access for the opposition lobby side. On the lower floor you'll effectively have a space equal in size to the second floor, and each of those sides, both the opposition and government side, will have their own independent stairway and elevator so that members attending the lobby during the day can move up and down freely, and it would be fully accessible.
We appreciate that it will create some potential issues around keeping members connected to their whips and leadership teams while they are there. However, considering the number of MPs that the House will need to accommodate in the usual proportions over the next 50 years, if the same formula is kept in place—we're already under space pressures now—it's only going to get worse down the road.
Finally, on the cost differentiations on the light court proposals, I'm going to ask Rob to comment on that.
Rob Wright
View Rob Wright Profile
Rob Wright
2020-12-03 11:14
Sure. Thank you very much for the question, Mr. Chair.
I will speak first about the lobbies. We looked at two options essentially for the chambers. The option that is proposed here—and these costs include the work on the galleries in the chamber and for the lobbies—is costed at approximately $75 million. The alternative option, which was the expanded chamber option that we looked at, was a little in excess of $300 million. Those were the two comparative options that we looked at. The proposed option here, which again includes the work on the galleries, the chamber and the lobbies, would be approximately $75 million.
On the light-wells, as you quite correctly point out, there are a number of puts and takes from a cost perspective, so it is a little more complex. We could come back with cost comparisons on that, because there are the energy consumption considerations. The covering in the light-wells is essential to the sustainability strategy for the Centre Block. We have a carbon-neutral strategy for the Centre Block. Before it closed, the Centre Block was the worst performing from the perspective of energy performance, energy usage and GHG emissions within our portfolio. That is essential to the strategy, going forward.
The other thing that would be important to note is that, especially with respect to the west and east courtyards, the use of these courtyards provides universal accessible access for Canadians to the galleries. Without using the courtyards in this way, we would have to find another and probably more costly way that would impact the heritage components of the Centre Block.
This sidesteps a number of those issues. It is critical to the sustainability strategy, it is critical to the universal accessibility strategy and, as the Deputy Speaker indicated regarding the growth in the number of parliamentarians, it provides some additional elbow room for the building, which is critical. It's part of returning the Centre Block to the original vision of John Pearson, of making sure that there's symmetry, a light-filled space and common-use space for Parliament. This is essential and has been a bit lost over the years as functionality has, with the need for space, overtaken some of this common space.
View Blake Richards Profile
Just to follow along, one of my three questions was addressed already but I have two additional. I'll just follow up on the light court proposal.
We have the proposals for the west foyer, the west light court. Is there a similar proposal being put before our colleagues in the Senate for the east side and a light court there? I'm just curious on that front.
View Bruce Stanton Profile
Indeed, there is. You may know that there is a working group much like ours on the House side that is getting constituted this month to deal with these issues as well. There is an east light court as well that is primarily surrounded by the Senate offices, but it's worth noting that there are House of Commons offices that typically face onto that light court as well. That's the subject of some discussion right now. It has not been finalized as of yet, but we are in the midst of discussions with the Senate working group to meet with them, hopefully in the new year.
View Blake Richards Profile
Just as a follow-up on that, you mentioned that there are, for example, House of Commons offices that back into that area as well. How will the interface between the two work to ensure that things are coordinated in a proper fashion and we are not getting two very different outcomes on each side?
View Bruce Stanton Profile
We're looking at finding a way to certainly get agreement on what is done there, but I think that, overall, the core objectives are around ensuring that we are maintaining the heritage objectives and keeping the architectural integrity of this amazing building in place.
Yes, we can modernize it and make it better from an energy efficiency point of view, but we're going to do all we can to make sure that we walk that line between an incredibly complex and busy operating workplace and, at the same time, maintaining that integrity and keeping the character of the interior services and spaces in such a way that it retains those remarkable features for generations to come.
View Blake Richards Profile
There's one other question I have. It wasn't really within the scope of your presentation this morning, but I am really curious about the welcome centre and how that will now look in terms of the entrance.
Right now, of course, we have the one entrance in front of the Peace Tower. Is that preserved in this or will something be done? I've always found that a bit of an odd and very awkward circumstance. What are the plans for that going forward, or can you address that today?
View Bruce Stanton Profile
For the Parliament welcome centre, we did adopt an approach there that will have the main entrance for Parliament, if you will, essentially on either side of the main stairs, right in the centre section as you walk towards the Peace Tower, as you approach those main stairs.
The entrance for the public and for others is still somewhat part of a discussion on how we're going to finalize the uses. That's a discussion that's being had, and it's one of the things that the IDRP spoke with us about as well. It's to make sure that, as the public come up there, they'll enter what is essentially the centre point of the whole parliamentary triad, as they say: the East Block, West Block and Centre Block.
On what you will see on the surface, though, as you look from Wellington up towards the Peace Tower, much of that is essentially going to stay the same. The lawn will be the same size. The Vaux wall, that stone wall that originates from the original structure, will be there. Members and senators will still have their own private entrances, as they do now, at grade level, on the east and west ends of the building.
The main public will enter from the sides of the stairs and essentially go slightly downward at that point. The main level, B1, in the Parliament welcome centre is where most of the public will clear security and we'll have those features of the welcome centre there. It's from there that they would proceed. If they were going to the galleries, they would take the elevators up to the third floor from that location.
View Blake Richards Profile
When you say “the sides of the stairs”, do you mean the stairs that are there now—or were there—right under the Peace Tower? Are you talking about stairs that are going up from the lawn level?
View Bruce Stanton Profile
If you walk up that main walkway, there's that grand staircase that goes up to the upper level—we'll call it a mezzanine level, almost—that's at grade level with the entrance to the Peace Tower. It's at the base of those main stairs. The left-hand and right-hand sides are where you will go into the welcome centre.
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