Major overhaul in store for entire block facing Parliament

PSPC to launch design competition to revamp ‘landmark location’

Ryan Patrick Jones · CBC News · 

The former U.S. embassy on Wellington Street sits on ‘Block 2,’ slated for redevelopment as part of ongoing renovations to the parliamentary precinct. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)


The federal government plans to redevelop an entire city block directly across from Parliament Hill as part of ongoing reconstruction efforts in the capital’s parliamentary precinct.

Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) announced its intention to hold a design competition to choose a winning architect for the project in a notice posted on its website last week. 

The redevelopment plan could see some of the 11 buildings currently on the site demolished and replaced by a new building or set of buildings. It marks the latest step in a series of expansive renovation and rehabilitation projects costing billions of dollars that aim to modernize Ottawa’s aging parliamentary precinct.

If ever there was a place to have a competition in Canada, this is it.- Kathleen Kurtin, Ontario Association of Architects

“The goal of the competition is to provide a cohesive design solution and to redevelop the site into an efficient complex of buildings,” the procurement notice says.

The site is one of three along Wellington Street that was appropriated by the federal government in 1973. Referred to as “Block B,” it’s bordered by Metcalfe Street to the east, Sparks Street to the south and O’Connor Street to the west. 

Aging buildings need repairs

Sitting directly across from the Peace Tower, it’s a coveted piece of real estate in Canada.

“If ever there was a place to have a competition in Canada, this is it,” said Kathleen Kurtin, president of the Ontario Association of Architects.

“This is a landmark location that deserves a special solution, which a design competition is sure to tease out.”

PSPC said in the notice that many of the 11 buildings on the site are in need of renovations or are underutilized. Only two are in good condition, PSPC said.

The new facilities will one day house offices and committee rooms for the Senate of Canada, the House of Commons and the Library of Parliament, along with retail space on the ground floor along Sparks Street.

The Block 2 site is currently home to 11 buildings, most of which are underutilized and in need of repair. The block is bounded by Metcalfe Street to the east, O’Connor Street to the west, Wellington Street to the north and Sparks Street to the south. (Public Services and Procurement Canada)

Two of the buildings currently on the site are designated as heritage properties — the former embassy of the United States and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce Building — and are therefore protected. The former is slated to become an Indigenous centre dedicated to Inuit, Métis and First Nations communities.

‘A positive street experience’

Kevin McHale, executive director of the Sparks Street Business Improvement Association, said he’s excited for the project, despite the fact that it is certain to lead to many more years of construction in the area.

“The reality is we know that there’s going to be more construction up and down through the precinct over the next number of years,” McHale said.

“Hopefully … we can minimize the impact to merchants and visitors to Sparks Street while at the same time, at the end of it, create a positive street experience for people.”

There is currently no estimated cost or schedule for the project, but an initial timeline shows PSPC plans to begin a process to pre-qualify bidders this spring, followed by a two-stage design competition that could take at least six months.

An independent jury made up of qualified experts nominated by the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada will select the top three designs, and the federal government will then negotiate a price and timeline with the winner. 

Parliamentary modernization

The Block 2 project is only the latest major redevelopment in the Parliamentary precinct.

Renovations to the West Block that began in 2011 and finished in 2018 cost $863 million. 

Both the Senate and the House of Commons have relocated to temporary lodgings since the Centre Block closed in 2018 for renovations that are expected to take up to 10 years.

Before that, the Wellington Building and the Sir John A. Macdonald Building, both of which house offices and meeting rooms for parliamentarians, were also renovated.

Sparks Street itself is undergoing major changes in the coming years, after city council approved a multi-million-dollar revitalization plan in November 2019. 

PSPC told CBC News the department is shifting its plan for the parliamentary precinct from a “building-by-building approach” that guided the renovations of West Block and Centre Block to a “a campus approach that will best support the safe and efficient operations of Parliament moving forward.”

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