PARLIAMENT HILL—Vacant and partially vacant buildings owned by the federal government in the National Capital Region cost more than $40-million in upkeep costs in 2016, including maintenance and repairs, according to documents recently obtained by The Hill Times.
There were 22 vacant or partially vacant federal buildings as of November 2016 in Ottawa, listed in documents recently released in response to an access to information request filed by Ottawa researcher Ken Rubin and released to The Hill Times. In all, these buildings cost a total of $40.6-million in upkeep in 2016.
The federally owned buildings inside and outside the Parliamentary Precinct are managed by separate branches of Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC). Its Parliamentary Precinct branch is responsible for the former and its real property branch is responsible for the latter. Because of this, information provided on the upkeep costs for vacant spaces varied.
The Parliamentary Precinct refers to the main buildings on Parliament Hill on Wellington Street, from the East Block to the Supreme Court, as well as all buildings within the area bound by Sparks Street, Bank Street, and Sussex Drive.
The 10 vacant and partially vacant buildings in the Parliamentary Precinct cost a total of $1.3-million in maintenance and repair between April 1, 2016, and November 2016, according to documents. Maintenance costs include utilities, cleaning service contracts, and labour related to the “ongoing upkeep of a building,” according to PSPC. Repairs refer to “short-term” work such as “emergency window and masonry repair.”
While only nine buildings in the Parliamentary Precinct are technically listed in documents, PSPC said the $27,000 in maintenance costs listed for the old U.S. Embassy at 100 Wellington St. between April and November of this year include upkeep costs for the vacant building at 128 Wellington St., which is also known as the former U.S. Embassy annex (though it’s tucked in beside the Victoria Building about a block away).
The old U.S. Embassy building has been vacant since 1998 and PSPC has previously told The Hill Times it costs an average of $200,000 annually to maintain.
There are 12 vacant or partially vacant buildings in the rest of the capital region, costing $39.3-million in annual upkeep costs.
Conservative MP Alupa Clarke (Beauport-Limoilou, Que.), his party’s Public Services critic, said it’s important “to make sure that taxpayers don’t pay” for empty spaces and the department “must have different ways to make sure that we can consolidate the office space.” Mr. Clarke said while some vacancies may be part of “a normal process,” it is “strange that there’s so many buildings with empty levels.” He said he hopes the minister and the department are working to try and manage the properties.
NDP MP Erin Weir (Regina-Lewvan, Sask.), his party’s Public Services critic, said it’s important for the government to “have an overall plan to make good use of these expensive assets,” noting that having so many vacant spaces is “not ideal.”
Asked about the situation, Public Services Minister Judy Foote (Bonavista-Burin-Trinity, Nfld.) said in an email that the department “manages a large portfolio of federal buildings throughout the country.”
“We continue to look at ways to leverage federal space to meet the accommodation needs of the public service while providing the best value for Canadians,” read the email.
In some cases, buildings listed have been vacated for ongoing renovation work, like the Wellington Building at 180 Wellington St., which saw its first occupants move in earlier this fall and is set to be in full use by the new year. Also falling into this category are the West Block, the Government Conference Centre, and the Canada Four Corners building at 93 Sparks St., all within the Parliamentary Precinct.
Outside the precinct, the planned future National Defence headquarters at the former Nortel campus at 3500 Carling Ave. has also been vacant due to construction. Some 3,400 DND employees are supposed to begin moving into the new headquarters beginning in January 2017. The federal government bought the building in 2010 for $208-million. No annual upkeep costs for the Carling campus were given by PSPC’s real property branch.
The prime minister’s official residence, 24 Sussex Dr., is vacant, and according to Radio Canada, it costs $180,000 for a five-month period from November 2015 to March 2016. (This building was not listed in the access documents).
Many other buildings are simply empty, or partially so, and in some cases have been for a number of years, with some reportedly near crumbling and in critical condition.
A number of them sit along Sparks Street, including: the Bates Building at 109 Sparks St., which cost $104,000 in upkeep between April and November this year; the Hope Chambers Building at 63 Sparks St., which cost roughly $83,000 during the same period; the Nelms Buildings at 67 Sparks St., which cost $125,000 over those seven months; and the Saxe Building at 75 Sparks St., which cost about $113,000 over the same time.
Relatedly, 69 Sparks St., home of Hill Times Publishing for the last 25 years, was officially vacated on the second floor as of Dec. 16, with the company moving to a new office on Queen Street.
Outside the precinct, the Rideau Falls Lab at 1 John St. has been vacant the longest: since March 1999, according to documents, costing $261,122.91 annually in upkeep. Altogether, that would mean about $4.4-million in maintenance and repair costs since being vacated.
The building at 1500 Bronson Ave., the old home of the Communication Security Establishment (CSE) and a former CBC building, has been vacant since June 2015, according to documents, cost $1.7-million in annual upkeep. The CSE is now on Ogilvie Road, while CBC has its Ottawa offices off of Queen Street.
The Constitution Building at 305-307 Rideau St. has apparently been vacant since September 2015, previously used by the Department of National Defence, costing $3.1-million in annual upkeep. The Federal Study Centre at 1495 Heron Rd., which has been vacant since December 2012, has cost $1.1-million in annual upkeep—that’s $4.4-million overall. As reported by theOttawa Citizen in January 2015, the 12-building complex is slated to be sold.
The General Records Building No. 15 at 130 Goldenrod Dr. has been partially vacant since March 2015, with $868,182.72 in annual upkeep costs. The Health Protection Building No. 7 at 200 Tunney’s Pasture Dr. was vacated this past August, according to documents, with annual upkeep costs of $1.4-million. The Insurance Building at 770 Heron Rd., apparently once part of the CSE complex, has been vacant since June 2015, costing $473,712.07 in upkeep.
Nearby the precinct, the Jackson Building at 122 Bank St., which has retail space on street level, has been partially vacant since October 2013, with annual upkeep costing $2.6-million—that would mean $7.8-million since becoming vacant.
L’Esplanade Laurier Complex, a large office building between Bank Street and O’Connor Street along Laurier Avenue West, has been partially vacant since October 2014, costing $15.8-million in annual upkeep, according to documents. Hundreds of Finance Canada staff moved out of the building and had relocated to the Jim Flaherty Building on Elgin Street as of 2015, ahead of planned renovations.
The Nicholson Building RCMP headquarters at 1200 Vanier Pky. has been partially vacant since January 2013, costing $3.4-million annually in upkeep—which adds up to $10.2-million in total. The building has been “listed in critical condition for years,” the Citizen reported in 2012.
As well, the Sir Leonard Tiley Building & Annex at 719 Heron Rd., also once used by the CSE, has been vacant since March 2016, costing $6.7-million in annual upkeep, as indicated by documents. Finally, the West Memorial Building sitting just outside the precinct to the south of the Supreme Court at 344 Wellington St., has apparently been vacant since March 2008, costing $1.9-million in annual upkeep—which amounts to $15.2-million in all. It’s also classified as in critical condition, as reported by The Toronto Star in 2012, and is scheduled for renovations.
The Hill Times
Buildings owned by the federal government inside and outside the Parliamentary Precinct are managed separately, by Public Services and Procurement Canada’s parliamentary precinct branch and real property branch, respectively. As a result, information provided on related costs for vacant spaces varied.
The parliamentary precinct refers to the buildings on Parliament Hill (including the Supreme Court on the western end) and around it, roughly bounded by Sparks Street on the south, Bank Street on the west and Sussex Street on the east.
From left to right: the Saxe Building, the Nelms Building, the Hope Chambers building, and the Bates Building on Sparks Street. Photographs couresty of Google Streetview.
The Constitution Building on Rideau Street, pictured left, and the Federal Study Centre on Heron Road. Photographs courtesy of Google Streetview.
The General Records Centre, left, and the Health Protection Building, right. Photographs courtesy of Google Streetview.
The Jackson Building, left, and the Insurance Building, right. Photographs courtesy of Google Streetview.
The West Memorial Building, left, and the Sir Leonard Tilley Building on Heron Road. Photographs courtesy of Google Streetview.
—Compiled by Laura Ryckewaert
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