Calgary City Hall renovation forces out city council

City council and the city clerk's office have been forced to move out of Calgary's historic City Hall. The city has started a $34 million renovation which will restore the building to its original glory.

4-year project means long-term stay in temporary office space next door

Calgary's historic City Hall, pictured in 1957, is undergoing extensive renovations on its exterior. (Glenbow Archives)

City council is now out of Calgary's historic City Hall and the construction workers have moved in.

The hard hats will have the run of the place for the next four years.

Work is officially underway to restore the crumbling sandstone walls of the building, which opened in 1911.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi and his staff have been moved to the city manager's office space.

City councillors are now taking visitors on the fourth floor of the administration building, which is attached to the east side of city hall.

The city clerk's office has also moved into the admin building.

Moving was cheaper option

Besides repairing the sandstone blocks, the city is going to fix city hall's leaking roof and windows.

Jillian Henderson with the city's facilities management group said they examined different options for the renovations, including allowing people to stay in their offices.

But they concluded there are good reasons to clear the building.

"By fully closing the building and moving all of the current occupants out, we actually save a significant amount on the project cost for the rehabilitiation and it also decreases the period of time that we will be doing work on the building," she said.

It's an extensive renovation even if not much is planned for city hall's interior. 

Calgary's old City Hall sits behind hoarding on August 30. The building is undergoing a $34 million makeover. (Scott Dippel/CBC)

Sandstone replacement

During the $34 million project, Henderson said much of the eroding sandstone will be replaced.

"It looks like we're going to have to do approximately 30 per cent of full replacement of the sandstone and then the rest of the stones, we will likely have to do a repair on almost all of them."

The real mystery is: where will the replacement sandstone come from?

The original blocks came from quarries in the Calgary area. Those are all closed, either exhausted or paved over by development decades ago.

Henderson said the city is currently taking bids from interested suppliers and it will have more information later this year. 

Committee rooms

Besides offices, some city meetings will also have to find new homes.

Many city council committee meetings will be shuffled from a room in the lower level of old City Hall to the council chambers in the municipal building.

Other meetings will take place in a new committee room which has been set up on the fourth floor of the admin building, near the councillor's new offices.

A view of the new councillor's offices area in the municipal building. (Scott Dippel/CBC)

Coun. Evan Woolley and his assistants have unpacked many of their boxes. He said he likes the new space, even if it's a temporary home.

"It's comfortable. It's a little bit bigger. Shorter roof, a little bit bigger of an office. They just moved our furniture from one space to the other," said Woolley.

For council members who are re-elected in 2017's municipal vote, it means spending up to four years in temporary quarters.

'So much history'

But to help save one of Canada's oldest city halls, Woolley said it's worth it.

"I loved going into that building every day. So much history. It's our most important historical resource in the city," he said. 

"It was not in great shape so I'm looking forward to the work that needs to be done to get it fixed up." 

Old City Hall has been designated a heritage resource by the city, as well as by the federal and provincial governments.

If you rely on the city hall clock tower to set your watch, don't worry because it's going to keep on ticking during the renovations.

Henderson said the clock's operations will be disrupted for just three months during the four-year project. So its bell will keep marking each hour, ringing out over the area around city hall.