Politics

Supreme Court building to get 'urgent' rehabilitation

The parking garage is at risk of structural failure next year, and electrical and mechanical systems are at the end of their life: the Supreme Court of Canada building needs urgent repairs, and Public Services and Procurement Canada is looking for a temporary new home for the judges.

Justices on Canada's highest court will move to temporary home for 5 years as building undergoes major reno

The Supreme Court of Canada, built in 1938-39, is showing its age. An internal document says it needs urgent repairs, and a plan is afoot to move the justices out of the building for five years' worth of rehabilitation on the art-deco structure. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Canada's Supreme Court building is crumbling, with some parts expected to fail as early as next year, which means the venerable justices must be evicted to permit five years' worth of urgent repairs.

CBC News has learned that Public Works is already searching for a temporary location for the high court so it can refurbish the art-deco stone building for its first complete renovation since being built in 1938-39.

The mechanical systems are expected to fail by 2020, the electrical systems a year later, and the water-damaged roof of the parking garage could collapse by 2018, says an internal report.

Wood paneling, marble wall panels and plaster finishes must all be removed, in part to get at asbestos and other hazardous substances suspected to lie within the interior and exterior walls and the ceiling spaces.

"Rehabilitation work is considered complex, disruptive and noisy," says an internal document outlining the problem.

Supreme Court of Canada building west of Parliament Hill in Ottawa. (Google)

The building is located west of Parliament Hill on Wellington Street in central Ottawa. Like the Parliament Buildings, it backs on the Ottawa River.

"Systems and infrastructure are mostly original — over 75 years old and have well exceeded their expected life cycles," the document says. "Water infiltration into the parking garage has reduced the structural capacity on the western roof deck."

CBC News obtained the June 22, 2016, document prepared for the justice minister under the Access to Information Act.

Steel frame

The briefing says the building was constructed using a structural steel frame that was not designed to withstand earthquakes, which have rumbled through the Ottawa area many times in the past.

PSPC is continuing to develop plans on an urgent basis given the condition of the Supreme Court.- Spokesman Jean-Francois Letourneau

The Supreme Court of Canada – including the judges' chambers, and two federal courts and chambers located in the same building – must be moved for at least five years during the major rehabilitation.

The document says that the temporary facilities, or "swing space," will have to be located in the vicinity, known as the federal precinct, which includes Parliament Hill.

The cost of the move and the rehabilitation are blacked out in the released document. Also deleted are two proposed "swing space" possibilities.

Representatives of Public Services and Procurement Canada — the department in charge of the projects — declined to provide any information. "It would be premature, at this point, to speculate on estimated costs and timelines," said Nicolas Boucher.

"While the project scope is being developed for the major rehabilitation, inspections are conducted as part of ongoing maintenance and urgent repairs have been implemented," he said.

Experts say the Supreme Court of Canada building's roof and parking garage could collapse without a major renovation 1:36

Added spokesman Jean-Francois Letourneau: "PSPC is continuing to develop plans on an urgent basis given the condition of the Supreme Court. "

A spokesman for the Supreme Court, Rémi Samson, referred all questions back to Public Services and Procurement Canada.

The building was last given a major upgrade in 1995, when the copper sheathing of the roof was replaced and there were electrical and mechanical improvements, among other things. The bill came to almost $22 million.

Most of the buildings in the Parliamentary Precinct have been refurbished or are slated for major rehabilitations, including the Centre Block starting in 2018, forcing MPs and senators into temporary quarters elsewhere.

Queen Elizabeth (the late mother of the present Queen Elizabeth II) attended the dedication of the Supreme Court of Canada building. (Library and Archives Canada)

Cost withheld

The total cost — excluding the 10-year Centre Block project, where the chambers of the House of Commons and Senate are located — is about $3 billion.

The projected cost of the Centre Block rehabilitation has not yet been released, and the Supreme Court rehabilitation was never part of the original Parliamentary Precinct refurbishment plan.

All of the buildings in the precinct are being seismically upgraded for earthquake survivability. In addition, the structures are being made more secure against attack, in the wake of an Oct. 22, 2014, incident in which a shooter killed a soldier before being shot dead in a hail of bullets inside the Centre Block.

An artist's rendition of what the temporary House of Commons Chamber will look like, once it is moved to the West Block from the Centre Block. Major repairs needed for the nearby Supreme Court building were not included in the original Parliamentary Precinct refurbishment plan. (Public Works and Government Services Canada)

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About the Author

Dean Beeby

Senior reporter, Parliamentary Bureau

Dean Beeby is a CBC journalist, author and specialist in freedom-of-information laws. Follow him on Twitter: @DeanBeeby

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