New plans for historic Royal Alberta Museum site

The Royal Alberta Museum is leaving a mammoth-sized vacancy at its old Glenora lot. Alberta Infrastructure is now asking for ideas on how to turn the site into a public green space once the museum finishes its move to the new Edmonton site in 2019.

Province considering a public green space to fill empty lot

The Royal Alberta Museum will complete its move to a new location in Edmonton by 2019. (Royal Alberta Museum)

The Royal Alberta Museum is leaving a mammoth-sized vacancy at its old Glenora lot. 

Alberta Infrastructure is now asking for ideas on how to turn the site into a public green space once the museum finishes its move to the new Edmonton site in 2019.

"We're going to do something with it," said spokesperson Tracy Larsen. "We're still looking at all those possibilities, for sure, and again keeping in mind that there's a lot of time to look and make the right decisions."

Larsen says the property will remain public and its historical buildings, namely Government House, won't be affected. Current options range from re-purposing or restructuring the old museum building, to demolishing it. 

"There's a lot of time to look at the options that are available and make the right decision," Larsen said.

The province is accepting design proposals for green spaces until March 15 to decide whether it's a workable option.

"A green space doesn't necessarily mean just grass and trees," said Bill Chomik, a senior principal with Kasian, a Canadian architecture and design company.

Chomik has worked on projects such as the Federal Building and the EPCOR tower in Edmonton. He said his company will consider making a bid for a contract if the province chooses to turn the old RAM site into a public green space.

"The Royal Alberta Museum site has almost got a rural quality to it," he said. "You know it's hemmed in by all those trees, it has a beautiful view of the river valley."
A view of the Edmonton river valley from the Royal Alberta Museum. (Caitlin Hanson/CBC)

The site does present some design challenges, but Chomik said these can be solved in creative ways.

If the old museum is demolished, the building's multi-tiered basement would leave behind a gaping hole.

Chomik said it would be easy to fill, but more interesting to work with. For instance, the hole could be turned into a small man-made lake.

"The conditions that will prevail once the building is removed can open up all kinds of opportunities," Chomik said.

He said material from the old building can also be incorporated into a new green space design. Stone can be ground into gravel for walking paths, or find a second life as a park bench.

Weather-resistant artifacts left in the museum, such as signs and plaques, can be reused as outdoor decorations.

"Maybe that can be put into the park as a memory of what the building used to be," Chomik said.

Even if the site isn't turned into a green space, Chomik said it's important to ask the public how its history and natural beauty should be preserved.

"I can only hope that the government intends to do that as part of the design process rather than imposing something on the site that is surrounded by people," he said.

"The successful team that's going to do this project is going to have to think out of the box ... and do something spectacular with that site because it's a spectacular site to begin with."

Alberta Infrastructure said there aren't any concrete plans yet. For now, the province needs to wait until the museum is completely vacant in 2019 before it can start building a future for the historic site.