As part of an effort to save 24 Sussex Drive for future prime ministers, a group of heritage-minded construction industry figures have put forward a plan to restore the dilapidated residence.
Historic Ottawa Development Inc. (HODI), a nonprofit organization that includes leading architects, conservationists and project managers with a track record of saving heritage properties from demolition, says it can’t stomach the idea of the 150-year-old building. being abandoned as the official residence of the prime minister.
HODI argues that the house has been at the center of national political life for generations and should not be relegated to the dustbin of history.
Marc Denhez is the President of HODI and a former member of the National Capital Commission’s (NCC) Official Residences Advisory Committee.
He said he believes reports of the home’s state of disrepair have been exaggerated and that the suggested price to spruce up the place is out of step with industry norms for a renovation project of this scale.
“We have several experts at our disposal and all of them have unanimously said that the $36.6 million figure is for birds,” Denhez told Breaking:.
TO 2021 NCC Report It concluded that the residence is in “critical” condition and estimated the cost to complete “deferred maintenance” at more than $36 million. The report pegged the “current replacement value” of the home at $40.1 million.
“It can be done for a lot less money if you know how to kick the tires. And we’ve got guys who know how to kick the tires,” Denhez said.
He said the option to seize land in Ottawa’s Rockcliffe Park for a new house, proposed by government sources in a Radio-Canada article earlier this week, would be more expensive than fixing up the existing Gothic Revival-style house to standards. modern.
“Don’t compare us to Jesus Christ. Compare us to the alternative, and the alternative is to kick visitors out of the park and put a glass box in the middle of the park,” Denhez said.
“There’s an apparent assumption that it’s going to be much cheaper to get a park and start from scratch. We don’t think that’s true.”
Denhez said it shouldn’t cost millions of dollars to remove dead rats and squirrels from the walls. Remediation work is already underway to remove asbestos and replace outdated electrical systems, he added.
Denhez said the prime minister does not need a fancy house with space designated for large receptions.
He said that under Canada’s Westminster system of parliamentary democracy, it is the King’s representative who has most of the official hosting duties and Rideau Hall is already well equipped to handle such events.
What the prime minister needs, Denhez said, is a respectable home fit for a G7 leader with space for the family and rooms for smaller state affairs.
A renovated 12,000-square-foot 24 Sussex would fit the bill, he said.
“It is the Crown that has the responsibility to hold state events. In Britain, there is no state banquet at 10 Downing St. The prime minister gets into his limousine and heads to Buckingham Palace,” he said.
“The same practice applies here in Canada. But there are some people in government who say, ‘Oh, 24 Sussex, that’s not presidential enough.'”
An NCC spokesman declined to comment on the agency’s long-term plans for 24 Sussex.
The house was closed for “health and safety reasons” last fall, the spokesman said.
Starting in September, construction workers will begin to “reduce designated substances” and remove outdated mechanical and electrical systems, he said.
A spokesman for Public Services and Procurement Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said the government is working closely with the NCC to “develop a plan for the future.”
A government source who spoke to Breaking: said Duclos will release the government’s plan for the residence “soon.”
“That’s the best I can tell you. The final plan will come soon. It is at the top of the minister’s list,” the source said.
Ken Grafton, HODI’s project manager, said the government should not rush into a decision to replace the house. He said HODI wants the chance to pitch his proposal to Duclos to save 24 Sussexes.
He said the NCC has stymied HODI’s efforts to obtain detailed documents on the condition of the home and the figures that support the $36.6 million price tag to replace it.
“The historic value of the house is very high. Think of all the world leaders who have passed through it. It would be ridiculous to demolish it. The government can’t be that callous,” Grafton said.
“We have put together a team that is really bulletproof in terms of built heritage credibility. We just want the chance to reverse the negative narrative that has been surrounding 24 Sussex for far too long. We want to be a resource to the government.” .
Mark Brandt is a senior conservation architect at Trace, an Ottawa firm that has worked on modernizing prominent heritage buildings such as the East Block on Parliament Hill and the Sir John A. Macdonald Building.
Brandt, a former president of HODI who supports the nonprofit’s ongoing efforts to save home, has written an unsolicited proposal to preserve 24 Sussex and at the same time build a new ‘official wing’ in the house’s expansive two-hectare grounds.
The existing residence would return to its original function as a single-family home, while the new extension could be used for other official purposes, he said.
“All this talk about demolishing a historic building is crazy. The residence can be saved and rehabbed. There’s no reason to lose the history or the seriousness of the place,” Brandt told Breaking:.
“A completely modern, super safe, net zero carbon addition can be made. It can be a friendly neighbor to the existing building which, as part of our proposal, can be fully restored on this spectacular site.”
Security concerns are what motivate the government to consider other sites for official residence.
The existing house is relatively close to the street, which is a risk given the real threats Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has already faced while in office.
But Brandt said those risks can be mitigated.
The home’s location — high on a cliff and surrounded by water on three sides — is already ideal from a security standpoint, he said.
The existing perimeter fence and gate can be “reinforced,” he added, and the road system slightly modified to prevent unwanted vehicles from getting too close.
“The neighbors of the house, the French embassy and the residence of the governor-general, seem to be very happy with the security situation. Security is a challenge, but I also think it is a red herring. We have great minds that have taken care of this before and we can do it again,” he said.
Other official residences, such as the White House in Washington, DC, are arguably much more exposed to security risks than 24 Sussex, he said.
And other buildings frequented by Trudeau, including those that Brandt’s firm helped design on the parliament grounds, are also in more vulnerable urban locations, he said.