New home for Senate on track for 2018, government says

Federal officials gave a tour Friday of Ottawa's old Union Station, which is being transformed into a new home for the senate. The government insists the project, slated to cost $269 million, will come in on or under the current budget.

Old Ottawa railway station will serve as temporary home for upper house

Renovations are continuing on Ottawa's former downtown train station — otherwise known as the future home of the Canadian Senate. (CBC)

The federal government says work on a new home for the Senate remains on track for completion by 2018, despite significant challenges.

Federal officials offered a sneak peek inside Ottawa's old downtown railway station on Friday.

Union Station, a heritage building completed in 1912, is being transformed into a temporary chamber for the upper house. Senators will meet there to deliberate and debate for at least a decade, as major renovations are carried out on Centre Block on Parliament Hill.

Until recently, the former train station had served as a government conference centre. Crews are now working both inside and outside the building, installing a new heating and cooling system, new elevators, wiring and ventilation, fire protection and other amenities intended to bring the building up to modern standards.

Ottawa has budgeted $269 million for the project. A government spokesperson says $219 million will go toward the renovations, while the remaining $50 million will cover other costs — including leasing temporary office space for senators and their staff near Parliament Hill.

Federal officials offered a sneak peek inside Ottawa's old downtown railway station, which will be used by the Canadian Senate starting in 2018, on Oct. 21, 2016. (CBC)

The government had initially set aside $190 million for restoration work on the station, with an extra $80 million reserved for extra office space for senators. It was forced to revise those figures when officials discovered the building was in far worse shape than they originally thought.

"It's over a hundred years old," said Thierry Montpetit, a senior director at Public Services and Procurement Canada.

"Obviously, adapting older buildings for which you have no documentation to the needs of modern day is a challenge."

Original work done cheaply

Montpetit said part of the problem is that when the train station was built in the early 20th century, the work was done as cheaply as possible.

"They obviously had a budget," Montpetit said. "It was built, I think, in two-and-a-half years, It's remarkable. But they took shortcuts."

Thierry Montpetit, a senior director at Public Services and Procurement Canada, says the Senate's future home will be "a stunning place." (CBC)

The building was slated for demolition in the 1960s but won a reprieve, first as a Centennial Centre in 1967 and then as a government conference centre. But even that took a toll.

"Because it was converted very haphazardly and ad hoc," Montpetit said, "they never really invested a lot."

Montpetit believes these latest renovations will restore the building to its original grandeur. He's also confident the job will come in on or under the current budget. 

The new senate chamber will be located in what was the train station's main concourse. Other areas, including the station's waiting area — with its high, arched ceiling — will be converted into meeting rooms and common space for senators, government workers and the public.

"I think it will be just a stunning place, as stunning as [the] Centre Block chamber is, for that matter," said Montpetit. "I think the senate will be very, very comfortable here."​