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Restoration of B.C. legislature building could cost millions

Engineers believe shifting and water damage is compromising the dome’s integrity and repairs are needed.


Restoration of the aging green dome atop B.C.'s iconic legislature buildings is expected to reveal a host of other problems that would significantly increase construction costs and duration, say members of a committee that will soon decide the best course of action.

The dome of the 115-year-old building in Victoria, on which a golden statue of Captain George Vancouver stands, has begun to twist and shift as the result of water seeping between the dome and the structure beneath it, said legislative clerk Craig James. Water damage can be seen on various parts of the building's exterior.

Zeidler Partnership Architects, a firm that reviewed the buildings in 2006, has estimated the repair cost to be about $5.7-million today. However, that figure could grow significantly depending on what crews find once restoration begins – a point of frustration called "scope creep" that many who have renovated their homes are all too familiar with.

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"One of the difficulties is that when you fix one part, it may be connected to some other part that requires fixing as well," he said.

"The dome is on a series of columns that go all the way down to the basement. Once you deal with the dome, do you have to further examine the columns that it rests on? [If so], will that need repair?"

Mr. James said the damaged dome doesn't pose a safety concern. "The thing isn't going to fall off and the building isn't going to crumble" – but it does need to be addressed.

The Legislative Assembly Management Committee will meet on Dec. 12 to discuss possible options.

Engineers from Zeidler Partnership Architects are expected to present a plan and answer questions from the committee.

The legislature is already known as one of the least earthquake-proof buildings in the province, and a 2011 report concluded it needs upgrades and maintenance worth $250-million to prevent a collapse. The hefty price tag means the buildings won't likely have seismic upgrades.

Water has also seeped into the basement walls of the legislative libraries. Crews have so far been successful in implementing temporary fixes to ensure the collections aren't harmed, "but we're doing a lot of patching and not a lot of repairing," Mr. James said.

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As well, other buildings that surround the main legislature building and house government workers are in poor shape and in need of potentially costly upgrades.

A four-year project to restore Saskatchewan's legislative building concluded in 2001, coming in at $18.6-million. It included an emergency foundation repair and upgrades to fire code and accessibility standards.

In Ottawa, costs associated with the repair of Parliament Hill's crumbling West Block were revealed last year to have soared past the billion-dollar mark.

The Treasury Board had approved $769-million for the restoration in 2005 and, in 2011, the Public Works Department said the cost had grown to $863-million.

That renovation included adding approximately 115,000 square feet of new building space, largely below ground, to the building's 176,300 square feet of floor area.

The day the government revised its initial estimate, then auditor-general Sheila Fraser said she "would not at all be surprised if the cost estimates increase over the project."

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