Edmonton

Big cost and challenges to major restoration of Alberta legislature

Restoration work to return the 106-year-old structure to its original state is expected to take three years.

18,000 repairs are needed to restore the crumbling sandstone of the Alberta legislature building

It will take three years to restore the crumbling and broken sandstone exterior of the Alberta legislature building. (Kim Trynacity/CBC)

To see the front of the stately Alberta legislature building, everything looks to be in place. 

But walk around to the southwest side of the 106-year-old structure and a different picture emerges. 

Shrouded in scaffolding and shrink wrap, a monumental repair job is underway to restore the crumbling building. 

The work is a continuation of the overall preservation strategy for the building, which began in 2012 when the terracotta dome was replaced, Alberta Infrastructure spokesperson Diane Carter said in an email. 

A seven-week inspection in 2016 by the project's primary consultant Rob Pacholok and another colleague discovered stones held together with everything from glue to wooden dowels.

When they were done, Pacholok said they had collected nine pails full of chipped and loose stones.

In January, a $20.5 million contract was awarded to Scorpio Masonry of Edmonton for the repair and restoration of the sandstone cladding and windows.

Project consultant Rob Pacholok filled nine pails with chunks of the Alberta legislature when he and a colleague undertook a site survey. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

"The building looked in great shape but as we got up closer, we saw a lot of deficiency," Pacholok said. 

"I think we're at 18,000 various deficiencies where there's falling, chipping, cracking pieces ready to fall off or have fallen off," he added. 

It will take three years to complete the work of restoring the weathered sandstone to its original state. 

The original Paskapoo sandstone used in 1907 came from the Glenbow quarry between Calgary and Cochrane. 

The quarry was the source of sandstone for many historic Calgary buildings, but stopped operating in 1912.

Now Scorpio is searching for new sources of Paskapoo sandstone, company president Chris Ambrozic said. 

"We are looking currently in Pincher Creek area and we have aligned with a small quarry down there where we're going to try and pull out pieces and grab them and be able to carve them," Ambrozic said.

Project challenges

The new source of sandstone will be a slightly different colour than the golden hue of the current structure, but Ambrozic said over time, the old and new will blend together.

And if it doesn't, that too will be a distinguishing feature of the legislature building.

Scorpio Masonry president Chris Ambrozic said his company was searching for new sources of Paskapoo sandstone.  (Nathan Gross/CBC)

"There's another theory about conservation that when you do the interventions and the repairs, you should be able to see them, so you can actually see that the building has been maintained and you can actually ascertain the quality of the workmanship," Ambrozic said. 

The greater challenge is developing a pool of skilled masons to complete the largest restoration project his company has taken on, he said. 

"We have a very young building stock in Alberta," he said, referring to the relatively smaller number of skilled trades people in Alberta, compared to more established markets in the eastern seaboard of the United States and central Canada. 

Edmonton-based Scorpio Masonry was awarded the $22.5 million contract to restore the legislature in January. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

"We've got to expand on that through apprenticeship and training," Ambrozic said.

"In the prairies we're young."

Discovery in the dome

Pacholok said he is thrilled to play a part in preserving and restoring Alberta's most important building. The structural engineer, who specializes in masonry restoration, also worked on the terracotta dome replacement.

At the time, he got caught up in the stories from that era when Alberta was just beginning, and the artifacts left behind. 

He discovered old newspapers from the time of the original construction stuffed behind the backup walls of the dome.

And his biggest find? An old cigarette package from the day that he passed on to the Alberta Museum.

But what eluded Pacholok then was the discovery of a hidden time capsule. 

Pacholok recounted a story he heard about two men from Vaudeville who came to Edmonton looking for work during the construction. 

"The rumour is they made their own time capsule and hid it," Pacholok said.

"We were doing a lot of demolition we thought we might find that old time capsule but we never did so," he said. 

"Rumour is it's still here."

There will be a lot of opportunity to keep looking for that time capsule. 

The restoration now being set up on the southwest corner of the building, will move next to the southeast corner then to the final stage on the north side in three years.

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