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Parliament restoration the highlight of busy year for Ottawa industry

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by Korky Koroluk

The Ottawa construction industry is in a buoyant mood as it comes off a record year, with another good year in the offing.


The Ottawa construction industry is in a buoyant mood as it comes off a record year, with another good year in the offing.

John Owens, the incoming chairman of the Ottawa Construction Association, said in an interview that there are several large federal government projects coming up this year.

“The long-awaited restoration of Parliament’s West Block is coming,” he said, “and the Wellington Building is moving ahead.”

Both jobs are part of a 25-year, $5-billion plan to upgrade buildings in the Parliamentary precinct.

The West Block work will feature a $43-million glass-covered space that will be the temporary House of Commons chamber during renovation of the Centre Block, which is likely to take five to seven years. When that’s finished, the glassed area will become committee rooms.

The total West Block renovation carries a price tag of $863 million and includes asbestos removal, masonry restoration, seismic upgrades, new windows and roof, and new mechanical systems.

But first up this year is likely to be a new headquarters for the Communications Security Establishment. It will be an $880-million facility to monitor electronic communications for the Defence Department. Work should begin this spring.

Meanwhile, OCA President John DeVries told the group’s recent annual meeting that building permits in the city last year were worth a bit more than $1.894 billion, a four-per-cent increase from the 2009 total <0x000A>of $1.812 billion.

He said the association’s membership climbed with construction volume, reaching a record 1,050 firms.

Contributing to the good year is the fact that “a lot of economic stimulus money has come into the area,” Owens said. And the industry got good news last month that the deadline for completion of stimulus work had been extended to October 31 this year, from March 31.

Two big city projects, a light rail transit line and redevelopment of Lansdowne Park, will be in the news this year since there is some uncertainty about both.

The LRT line is to cost about $2.1 billion, with a start hoped for in 2013 and completion in 2019. But preliminary soil testing has revealed problems at the east end of a tunnel that would traverse the downtown core. As a result, the tunnel might be shortened somewhat, although that apparently would not change the cost estimates.

“Tunnels are a pretty risky venture, no matter how you look at it,” said Owens. And he recalled a statement by new mayor Jim Watson that he would put a halt to any large project that looked as though it was going to be badly over budget.

The Lansdowne Park project is to get under way this year, but first there are a couple of hurdles to be overcome this spring. A group called Friends of Lansdowne Park has launched a court challenge to the project, in part because it is a sole-source job, in apparent contravention of the city’s own policy. If the project survives that, there is still an Ontario Municipal Board hearing scheduled to deal with some zoning issues.

If it goes ahead, plans call for it to be finished in 2013.

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