More than one in four area federal buildings in poor or critical condition, government report says

Sir Charles Tupper Building on Riverside Drive. Photo: Julie Oliver/Postmedia

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

OTTAWA CITIZEN, By Bruce Deachman

More than a quarter of all federally owned, leased or licensed buildings in the Ottawa-Gatineau area, including many landmark downtown buildings, are in critical or poor condition, according to the government’s own assessment.

Of 2,197 National Capital Region buildings listed in the Treasury Board Secretariat of Canada’s Directory of Federal Real Property, 187 are in critical condition and 409 are in poor shape, accounting for 27 per cent of the total. Six-hundred and ninety (31 per cent) are listed in good condition, while 712 (32 per cent) are listed as fair. An additional 199 (nine per cent), all of them licensed or leased, are unrated or listed as “unknown.”

All of the buildings listed as critical or poor are Crown-owned, pushing the portion of critical and poor buildings to 30 per cent of all federally owned buildings in the National Capital Region.

Among those currently listed as critical are the Sir Charles Tupper Building on Riverside Drive; the Taxation Data Centre on Heron Road, Place de Portage’s Phase IV in Gatineau, the National Printing Bureau on boulevard Sacré-Coeur in Gatineau and the Supreme Court building on Wellington Street.

According to the Treasury Board Secretariat, a structure is rated critical when “(operations and maintenance) costs are high, and frequent emergency maintenance and repair are required. Risk of building and building systems failure is high.”

Chris Aylward, national president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, says the government must do more to address the situation. “It’s very concerning to us because the health and safety of our members are being put at risk.

“One of the things that (Prime Minister Justin) Trudeau made a priority was infrastructure investment, and federal buildings have deteriorated considerably under this prime minister. We need the prime minister to deliver on (his) commitment.”

The average age of the area buildings listed as critical is about 73 years, and although many are old barns, silos and other farm buildings, others are among Ottawa’s most historic office and retail buildings. Great swaths of the downtown core, particularly on Wellington and Sparks streets, fall into this category.

Apart from the Supreme Court, other Wellington Street properties in critical condition include the National Press Building and the old U.S. embassy and its annex. Parliament’s Centre Block, currently undergoing renovations, is also listed as critical.

Sparks Street buildings in critical condition include the Dover-Brouse-Slater Building, the Booth Building, the Hope-Chambers building, the Blackburn Building, St. Andrew’s Tower, the House of Norcano Building, the Saxe (Canada Life) Building, the Nelms Building, the Birks Building, the Bate Building, the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, the Fisher Building and the Canada’s Four Corners Building.

The oldest building on the critical list is a 190-year-old shed on Russell Road. The oldest ones in downtown Ottawa are the prime minister’s residence at 24 Sussex Dr. and the Nelms Building on Sparks Street, at 153 and 150 years respectively.

Of the 139 Crown-owned buildings listed as being under PSPC’s umbrella, 47 are in critical condition, and 45 others are in poor shape. PSPC would not make anyone available for an interview, but in an email Friday it claimed to be “custodian of approximately 110 crown-owned buildings in the National Capital Region” of which 11 it said are in critical condition and 15 in poor condition.

Furthermore, it added, “more than $1 billion is being invested in the rehabilitation of the Supreme Court of Canada and West Memorial Buildings, both classified as heritage assets.

“Through the Parliamentary Precinct’s Long Term Vision and Plan (LTVP), PSPC is restoring and modernizing buildings within the Parliamentary Precinct. Over the last few years, PSPC has successfully completed numerous rehabilitation and construction projects, such as the Library of Parliament (2006), the Sir. John A. Macdonald Building (2015), the Wellington Building (2016), the West Block (2018), the Senate of Canada Building (2018) and Phase I of the Visitor Welcome Centre (2018), which is the first new building to be constructed on Parliament Hill in over 100 years. The work being undertaken is also being recognized for being of high quality and for having a positive impact on Canada’s capital.”

Additionally, its website indicated that the Confederation Building and former U.S. embassy on Wellington have funding earmarked for upgrades.

David Flemming, chair of the Heritage Ottawa Advocacy Committee, is quick to point out that the federal government does an excellent job when it does upgrade its properties, hiring top architects and winning numerous awards for design excellence, sustainability and heritage conservation. Flemming points to Diamond Schmitt Architects and Barry Padolsky Associates Inc. Architects as examples, each winning Ottawa Urban Design Awards for their restorations of the Senate of Canada Building and Victoria Memorial Museum, respectively.

Additionally, Flemming says, the feds have increasingly welcomed input from such organizations as Heritage Ottawa and, as is the case with the Booth Street complex that is currently being developed privately, now often includes conditions on building sales that require developers to include historical buildings in their plans, rather than simply raze them.

“We’ve come a long way in the last 10 or 15 years, but there’s more to do,” says Flemming. “I can sympathize that there’s only a certain amount of money in the budget, but I think it’s short-sighted to delay a lot of these things because if it is a question of finances it’s going to cost a lot more the longer you delay.

“But they’re doing a good job,” he adds, “and I’m not going to be critical of them for what they’re not doing, because I think it’s balanced off by the fact that when they do get around to doing things, they do it fairly well.”

PSAC boss Aylward notes that the percentage of buildings in the poor and critical categories has ballooned significantly in recent years. He specifically cited The Sir Charles Tupper Building, Canada Revenue Agency’s Tax Data Centre at 875 Heron Rd., Place du Portage and much of Tunney’s Pasture as worrying. All four sites are maintained by PSPC.

Meanwhile, almost two dozen buildings at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s Fallowfield Road complex are in critical shape, as are many at the Central Experimental Farm and Greenbelt Research Farm.


CLICK HERE to read this story in its entirety on the Ottawa Citizen website.

Related Reading:

Heritage Ottawa: Letter to PM re 24 Sussex Drive | March 6, 2019

It's Time to Get Moving on 24 Sussex | Heritage Ottawa, January 17, 2019

24 Sussex, a Federal Heritage Building, in Need of Critical Repairs and Restoration | Heritage Ottawa, October 24, 2015