PEI

Veterans Affairs staff to spend years away from Daniel J. MacDonald Building

The federal Department of Veterans Affairs confirms that no employees will be working from the Daniel J. MacDonald Building in downtown Charlottetown during planned renovations, adding to the stretch of near-vacancy since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Renovations on downtown Charlottetown site due to start in January 2022

Renovations to the Daniel J. MacDonald Building will include replacing the heating and ventilation systems with more environmentally friendly units. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

The federal Department of Veterans Affairs confirms that no employees will be working from the Daniel J. MacDonald Building in downtown Charlottetown during planned renovations, adding to the stretch of near-vacancy since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Most staff have been working from home for the last 10 months, though some teams have maintained skeleton operations in the building. 

The department is planning to have the 900 workers formerly stationed in the building to either continue to work at home or take up space at other offices on P.E.I. when a major renovation begins in January 2022. 

"The primary advantages of closing the Daniel J. MacDonald Building (DJM) to staff for the duration of the project are ensuring the health and safety of our employees, and reducing the overall length of the project by approximately one year," media spokesperson Marc Lescoutre said in an email to CBC News Thursday.

"Keeping the building empty of employees eliminates construction-related disruptions to our operations, and any health and safety risks to our staff."

The project is not scheduled to wrap up until the middle of 2026, the email said. 

The Daniel J. MacDonald Building on Grafton Street in Charlottetown is due for its first major renovation since Veterans Affairs Canada put it into service in 1985. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

Lescoutre added that "roughly half of the department's more than 1,800 employees based in Charlottetown work out of the DJM. The remainder of Charlottetown-based employees work at one of seven other locations in the area.

"Throughout the course of construction at DJM, we currently expect that roughly two-thirds of VAC employees will continue working in Charlottetown."

Veterans Affairs will be looking to rent about 3,000 square metres (32,000 square feet) of office space while the renos are done, Lescoutre said. Other office space might have to be rented later if that doesn't prove adequate. 

The MacDonald building has not had a major renovation since it opened in the mid-1980s, designed to house 450 staff.

This photo of Daniel J. MacDonald appears on the Veterans Affairs Canada website, showing him visiting a war cemetery in Europe while he was federal minister of veterans affairs. (Veterans Affairs Canada)

Its name honours Daniel (Daniel Dan) Joseph MacDonald, a Bothwell farmer who "volunteered to fight in the Second World War [and] saw action in the Italian Campaign," says the department's website. Twice wounded, he eventually went through the amputation of his left arm and leg.

MacDonald later was elected to P.E.I.'s legislative assembly and then became a member of parliament before being named the federal minister of veterans affairs. His lobbying is the prime reason the national headquarters of Veterans Affairs Canada is located in Charlottetown. 

NORR Architects and Engineers from Toronto won a $3.3-million contract in early 2018 to do the design work for the upcoming renovation, meant to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while updating the entire building, from its heating and ventilation systems to cosmetic fixtures. 

At the time, MP Sean Casey estimated the final construction budget would be in the tens of millions of dollars. 

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