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.