I'm pleased to return to this committee to share information and ideas regarding the rehabilitation of Centre Block.
It is, as Mrs. Garrett has said, a high heritage building, and we wish to preserve that key important heritage. But it's also the working heart of the Canadian parliamentary democracy, and that has evolved over the last century since the building was designed and built. What has remained constant is the importance of the fundamental planning principles that created the building and, indeed, the triad of buildings in the first place. Those are the beaux arts design planning principles that have emphasized the hierarchy of spaces and the importance of both ceremonial circulation and processional routes, as well as providing a very strong infrastructure for the functional aspects of the building. You have the symmetrical displacement of the two chambers, the House and Senate, the placement of the library on axis, along with Confederation Hall, and in more recent years the Centennial Flame. We want to ensure that as we move forward with the project, we extend that beaux arts plan to create a campus or a complex of buildings that are appropriate in every way to the historical intentions of the original creators of Parliament Hill.
We see, as we look at this in a conceptual way, the way in which we plan to maintain the axiality of the design. In fact, we'll draw it together more closely, so that we can integrate the collection of buildings in a better way that relies on the fundamental principles, by adding the visitor welcome centre complex, phase two. This will knit together East Block and West Block and provide additional spaces that have long been lacking in Centre Block, particularly new committee rooms, a new entry to the overall complex, especially for visitors, and the connections, as I said, to the other buildings.
I want to specifically begin today perhaps with the House chamber and the modernization considerations that are important there. The House chamber, as a focal point in the overall building, encapsulates the issues faced throughout the building. We want to ensure that the design is “future-proofed” so that it can accommodate, as the nation grows, the growing number of members of Parliament. We have to find a way to accommodate that.
Now, one of the fundamental questions is: Will we accommodate that within the footprint of the existing chamber, or should we develop an expansion of that?
There's the question of furniture, and whether the existing furniture that has been part of the original design can be reused, or whether we shall be looking for something newer for that.
As the number of members of Parliament grows, so the lobbies themselves need to grow as well. The question is, how do we accommodate this important growth, which really reflects the growth of the nation, in the actual physical building itself?
Finally, there's the provision of universal accessibility, which is important throughout the building and is something that the original architects never considered.
If I begin with those considerations of the Commons chamber, the fundamental issues include life safety and code requirements, especially the code requirement for universal accessibility and, as I said before, the seating capacity in line with the growing population and the number of parliamentarians. These will be measured against the heritage assets that are in the building; future broadcast and communications technology; modernization of all heating, cooling and plumbing; and the design for seismic activity, which was of course never considered in the original building.
As we do our discovery and investigate all of these aspects of the building, we're developing a fundamental set of drawings. You see one of them here, a section through the Commons chamber that shows the degree to which we're using modern technology as well, including photo autometry to integrate actual photographic imagery of the building with the drawings themselves.
Let's look at the organization of seating in the House of Commons chamber. The chamber as it is does not currently meet building codes for life safety or accessibility. We need to correct those deficiencies and we also need to provide additional seating, ideally to achieve 400 seats plus the Speaker's chair, to provide for growth over the next decades. We can make significant improvements and get to some of that capacity. Obviously, though, it will require changes, and some of those changes may require compromises. We expect that we can achieve code compliance and accessibility from the floor of the chamber to the ambulatory, as shown in one of the options I developed to have the 400 seats.
This potential solution is based on maintaining the House's tradition of parallel seating—and, although other chambers in other places do other forms of seating, the actual configuration of the existing room itself lends itself to the parallel seating.
In looking at the chamber, we need to look not only at the actual floor of the chamber but also at the galleries surrounding the chamber, because they too are equally challenged in terms of contemporary life safety and accessibility requirements and must be updated. We've designed options to make these improvements, but they will come at a cost of capacity. Currently there are a total of 553 seats in all of the galleries combined. Meeting current code standards and providing accessibility may reduce that number to about 305 seats. This would require reorganizing the seating and reducing the steep rake of the north and south galleries that no longer meets code.
The functional program, I should point out, includes the request for a remote chamber to be located in the visitor welcome centre to allow people to view proceedings in a more appropriate setting with multimedia displays, which could be a contemporary and appropriate way to expand the viewing of the House in its meetings.
Just to look in more detail at the north gallery, here is an option for it: reduce the steepness of the pitch of the seats, provide fully accessible viewing positions and achieve building code compliance. You begin to see the way in which modern building codes will impact the existing space.
Similarly, in the south gallery, a plan for it includes, in this case, the console operator booth. These are ways that we can, without altering the historic fabric or indeed the look and feel of the room that are so important to the dignity of Parliament, make the accommodations necessary.
With regard to committee rooms, the importance and use of committee rooms has changed dramatically over the last 100 years. They are now an integral part of the legislative process and much in demand. Both the Senate and the House need new committee rooms, and I would ask Mr. Wright to elaborate on that.