OTTAWA – The newly renovated West Block of Parliament was formally turned over to the speaker of the House of Commons Thursday as Geoff Regan accepted a large, sculpted copper key on behalf of MPs.
“If this is the key, I want to see the size of the lock,” Regan quipped as he was handed the symbolic lock-turner by Public Services Minister Carla Qualtrough at a ceremony just outside the temporary Commons chamber the building now holds.
While a few finishing touches remain, including installing the desks where MPs will debate legislation over at least the next decade, the renovations to the stately 19th-century building are all but complete.
Members of Parliament are set to move out of the Centre Block, which will undergo its own massive upgrade, over their Christmas holiday break and begin deliberating government business in the transformed West Block once they return on Jan. 28.
The West Block renovation took seven years, with a price tag approaching $1 billion.
“On budget and on schedule,” Qualtrough highlighted as she spoke of the redesign.
Refurbishing Parliament’s Centre Block, including the intricate cleaning and restoration of its exterior stones, is expected to take at least a decade.
Renovations to West Block have “brought together the old with the new,” capturing the history of the stone heritage building while incorporating new technologies, including a glass ceiling over the temporary Commons that is designed to capture heat in the winter and expel it in the summer, Qualtrough said as she stood inside the still-new-smelling interim House.
“The idea that the heat is captured by the ceiling and then distributed across (the floor) really helps reduce the (energy) output,” said Qualtrough.
“And then in the summer the heat that accumulates in the roof can be vented to reduce air-conditioning expenses,” added assistant deputy public services minister Rob Wright, who has helped lead the renovation project.
The building was also designed to be more accessible, including ramps into a new welcome centre built below ground between the west and centre blocks where visitors will go through security screening before entering.
The West Block building was constructed between 1859 and 1906 and included a centre courtyard. Including that green space in the renovation’s design, along with four new levels below ground, has nearly doubled the building’s usable space to 26,000 square metres.