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Parliament Hill reno costs quietly soar above billion-dollar mark

Workers install a protective barrier on the north end of West Block during continuing renovations on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Thursday October 15, 2009. West Block, the oldest building on the Hill dating to 1865, was under large scale renovations.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

The cost to repair Parliament Hill's crumbling West Block has quietly passed the billion-dollar mark, newly released documents show.

The revised work estimate for the heritage structure appears on a single line of the federal public accounts for the fiscal year 2011-12, released this week.

The price tag for the renovation has soared since 2005, when Treasury Board approved $769-million to restore the building.

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In February 2011, the Public Works Department said the cost had grown to $863-million – what was then an increase of $94-million.

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

Now the public accounts document shows the latest estimate is $1.17-billion.

The repairs to the historic, three-storey structure – built in three phases between 1859 and 1906 – involve masonry restoration, removal of asbestos, seismic upgrades and a new roof and windows. The work is scheduled to be finished by 2017.

The billion-dollar estimate does not include a separate, $425-million renovation of the Wellington Building across the street from Parliament Hill.

In its 2012-13 report on plans and priorities, Public Works said that by March 31, 2011, "all major projects were all on schedule and on budget."

Public Works was not immediately available to comment on the higher estimate.

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The West Block renovation has been a lightning rod for controversy.

The RCMP are investigating the relationship between Montreal company LM Sauve and long-time Conservative supporter Gilles Varin.

Company owner Paul Sauve says he paid Varin $140,000 to help him win a $8.9-million contract to restore part of the West Block in 2008. Varin says he only got $118,000 for his work.

Mr. Sauve's company went bankrupt a year later and lost the job.

Last year, the government awarded PCL Constructors Canada a $358.5-million contract to manage the West Block restoration.

Another company, EllisDon Corporation, was awarded $209-million in contracts to repair the Wellington Building and the former Bank of Montreal building, now called the Sir John A. Macdonald Building.

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Public Works, however, brought in PricewaterhouseCoopers this month – at a cost of $112,608 – to do a financial audit of "contractual payments and compliance with specified tendering procedures" in relation to construction management contracts for the West Block, the Wellington Building and Sir John A. Macdonald Building.

The auditors must submit their findings by the end of next March, although Public Works has the option of extending the contract by up to five years.

Public Works has yet to say if the PricewaterhouseCoopers audit has anything to do with the higher cost of the West Block renovation.

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