Federal bill to fix up official residences – including fire hazard 24 Sussex – tops $83M: NCC report

Federal bill to fix up official residences - including \fire hazard\ 24 Sussex - tops $83M: NCC report
PMs official residences in critical condition: report
It'll take tens of millions of dollars over the next decade to restore and maintain Canada's official residences — including the "fire hazard" that is 24 Sussex Drive — due to chronic underfunding, according to a new report by the National Capital Commission.

The audit, based on a 2017 in-depth assessment of the NCC's portfolio, concluded that 24 Sussex Drive, the official home of the prime minister, and Harrington Lake, the prime minister's country residence, are in "critical" condition — meaning they need "frequent emergency maintenance and repair."

NCC needs $83M to address critical maintenance at 24 Sussex, other official residences

The report found that Rideau Hall — home and workplace of the Governor General of Canada — and Stornoway, home of the leader of the Opposition, are in "good" condition, while the home of the Speaker of the House of Commons in Gatineau Park is in "poor" condition.

The Caretaker’s House at 10 Sussex Drive, adjacent to the main gate and now used for RCMP officers, is listed in “critical condition” and had the dubious honour of being judged to be in the most decrepit of all the NCC’s properties. (Second worst was 24 Sussex and the third most critical was the PM’s summer residence at Harrington Lake)

Rideau Gate, where Gov. Gen. Julie Payette is living, is in "fair" condition. Rideau Cottage, where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his family actually live, was excluded from the in-depth building condition report since it's considered part of the Rideau Hall grounds.

Harrington Lake, which was built in 1925, is also rated in “critical” condition and in need of major rehabilitation. A $3.5 million renovation begun last year will improve the heritage structure’s “building envelope”, repair its chimneys and fireplaces, improve its foundation and make it more energy efficient.

The NCC says a one-time injection of $83 million over 10 years is needed to address the "deferred maintenance deficit for all six official residences, as a result of chronic underfunding over many years."

The commission said the funding would bring all the residences up to "good" condition, but would not modernize them.

Beyond the one-time spending request, the NCC's report also asks for an increase in annual appropriations of $24.6 million for ongoing maintenance, repairs and renovation projects.

More than a quarter of the commission’s properties are considered to be in “critical” condition, according to an NCC’s Asset Portfolio Condition Report for the Official Residences of Canada. The report, dated April 2018, was released publicly on Tuesday.

"Without sustainable funding, the deferred maintenance deficit will continue to grow and more assets will resemble the current state of 24 Sussex Drive," says the report.

Stornaway, the residence of the leader of the Official Opposition, is rated in good condition, and has undergone significant renovations and improvements since 2005, but still requires a new roof, new hardwood flooring as well as replacing wiring and electrical panels.

Tuesday's report noted the buildings on the grounds of 24 Sussex "have reached the point of imminent or actual failure, and require replacement," notes the report.

“Without both a sustainable source of funds and access to the residences to undertake regular repair, maintenance and scheduled capital improvements, the NCC will not be able to fulfill its mandate with respect to the official residences,” it says.

"The age and condition of the electrical system poses a fire hazard and the plumbing system has failures on a regular basis."

The National Capital Commission says it needs $83 million over the next 10 years to fix up its six official residences in the Ottawa area, including the iconic and currently vacant prime minister’s residence at 24 Sussex Drive.

Harrington Lake, located in Pontiac, Que., needs a chunk of money to fix the rot in the wooden structure.

Rideau Hall itself, the oldest and most prestigious property in the portfolio, was rated to be in the best condition, thanks to $65 million in capital and maintenance spending over the past 10 years.

And the report notes the caretaker's home on the property "has been closed for several years due to instability and other health and safety concerns. It requires a major recapitalization, at an estimate of $1.9 million."

“Without sustainable funding, the deferred maintenance deficit will continue to grow and more assets will resemble the current state of 24 Sussex Drive,” the report states.

Rideau Gate, located between 24 Sussex and Rideau Hall, isn't universally accessible, which doesn't suit its function of hosting visiting dignitaries, notes the audit.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his family opted not to live at 24 Sussex, his boyhood home, and instead moved into Rideau Cottage on the grounds of Rideau Hall.

The NCC's "long range vision" for the area, obtained by CBC through access to information law, suggests the vice-regal's family could at one point move into Rideau Cottage as their primary residence, instead of Rideau Hall.

The NCC says its goal for the official residences is to "ensure that they are furnished, maintained and rehabilitated to safeguard their national heritage, provide safe and appropriate accommodations for Canada's official leaders, and serve as inspiring properties and grounds for the conduct of state events and ceremonies."

In all, the NCC manages 56 buildings at the six official residences in the national capital region, four of them in Ottawa and two in Quebec.

"The funding announced in Budget 2018 will allow the NCC to begin to address some of its asset maintenance issues and ensure the health and well-being of visitors," said Simon Ross in an email to CBC.

"I've made the decisions to talk to experts and to look at the NCC and allow them to make the determinations on what the future of 24 Sussex will look like," he said.

The report also urges a $24.6-million increase in the NCC’s annual maintenance budget for the properties.

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The prime ministers official residences in Ottawa and at Harrington Lake are both in critical condition, according to a new report from the National Capital Commission.

The report states that the 1868-built home at 24 Sussex Drive in Ottawa, which had its last major renovation in 1951, has now reached the point of imminent or actual failure.

Over the decade from 2006 to 2016, when Stephen Harper was prime minister, about $6 million was spent on capital improvements and $2.8 million on operations at the residence. The NCC says that wasnt nearly enough, and that the following problems remain:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau chose not to move into the official residence after his 2015 swearing in, opting instead to live across the street at Rideau Cottage.

The prime ministers other official residence, at Harrington Lake in Pontiac, Que., was built in 1925 and acquired by the federal government in 1951.

The last significant construction work took place in 2005 and consisted of improvements to the electrical system, installation of a sprinkler system, reroofing, and the construction of a sunroom, according to the NCC.

The building, which Trudeau and his family sometimes use, continues to need critical rehabilitations for the exterior envelope including doors, windows, attic, foundations and chimneys, according to the report.

The caretakers house, meanwhile, has been closed for several years due to instability and other health and safety concerns, the report claims.

Just under $1.7 million was spent on capital and about $1.9 million was spent on operations and maintenance on Harrington Lake between 2006 and 2016, the report says.

Meanwhile, the official residence of the speaker of the House of Commons, The Farm in Chelsea, Que., is listed in the report in poor condition, a rating one step up from critical.

Rideau Hall, where Governor General Julie Payette lives, and Stornoway, which is home of the Leader of the Official Opposition, Andrew Scheer, were both rated as good.

Concerns about the state of repair at the prime ministers residences date back decades. Observers say they dont get fixed because the opposition is likely to pounce on the use of taxpayer dollars to do major renovations.

Earlier this summer, Scheer criticized Trudeau for the installation of a $7,500 play structure at Harrington Lake, suggesting the NCC should instead have bought one from Walmart that cost less than $200.

The NCC is asking for a one-time injection of $83 million over 10 years for deferred maintenance and an increase in annual appropriations of $24.6 million. That NCC currently receives about $23 million per year.

The Canadian prime ministers residence, 24 Sussex, is seen on the banks of the Ottawa River in Ottawa on Monday, Oct. 26, 2015. (Sean Kilpatrick / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

One alternative home is at Harrington Lake, the official summer residence of the prime minister, located a 30-minute drive outside Ottawa.

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