Government to demolish Legislature Annex building, remediate site

Maligned as a “monstrous eyesore” the same year it opened, the turquoise-walled Legislature Annex building is coming down.

Alberta’s infrastructure minister said the 1951 structure is in such disrepair it would cost $29 million — half its value —to renovate the 12-storey building.

“It’s an aging property for the government,” Prasad Panda said in an interview on Tuesday. “Back then, it was required, but in today’s need and requirement to deliver government programs, it’s a surplus.”

The government will move the 300 remaining civil servants working in the building to other office space and begin removing hazardous material either later this year or in early 2021, Panda said. Demolition will follow, but slowly and carefully, to protect an underground parkade, walkway and surrounding buildings.

A cracked window in the vacant seventh-floor office of the Legislature Annex building. (Dave Bajer/CBC)

The annex building is leaky inside and out. A tour on Tuesday revealed years of water damage on ceilings, window frames and walls. Tubes of absorbent material lined some windows to collect water that seeps in during storms.

Groundwater also leaks into the two-level basement, said Ella Ethier, facilities manager with Alberta Infrastructure. At least 30 windows are cracked.

The aged plumbing is also responsible for internal floods.

The basement converter room is a tangle of green and yellow steam-filled tubes covered with asbestos insulation. Some of the tubes are rusting and leak puddles onto the floor.

Manual switches control the heat to each floor, leaving some offices scalding and others chilled.

The hard-to-control temperature and moisture problems lead to paint jobs that crack repeatedly. Also, some of the paint contains lead.

Some metal solar grades screwed outside the windows to prevent the glass-walled building from getting too hot were improperly secured and blew off in a windstorm, Ethier said.

Modern wheelchairs don’t fit through the door frames. Turning on air conditioners requires removing a small metal grate and reaching inside the fixture. Tiles are missing from some bathrooms.

It costs $750,000 a year to run and maintain the half-empty building, Panda said.

It will take about six months to dismantle and remediate.

Further changes to legislature grounds considered

What will replace it? Panda hasn’t decided yet, because the annex isn’t the only problem on the legislature grounds.

The three 40-year-old pools and fountains so popular with kids are leaking, Panda said. If the government repairs or improves them, it may not keep all three, he said.

The concrete on the Alberta legislature plaza is in disrepair. (Dave Bajer/CBC)

The concrete on the plaza of the grounds is in disrepair. And the front steps of the legislature building have been blocked off for months, because the rebar inside them has corroded, Panda said.

He’s going back to the finance ministry to ask what budget is possible for making improvements to the grounds.

The grounds are a popular spot for graduation and wedding photos, picnics, joggers and more, and Panda said he wants to improve the experience for visitors. Free Wi-Fi is among the considerations.

The front steps of the Alberta legislature are blocked off due to the corrosion of rebar inside the staircase. (Dave Bajer/CBC)

“People love this, because this is the temple of democracy,” Panda said. “It’s still a historic place. People attach a lot of prestige to these legislature grounds. They feel it because they own it. It’s public property, and that’s why they come here and enjoy.”

The annex opened in 1953 as a six-storey Alberta Government Telephones building. In 1964, the government added six more floors, making it one of the tallest buildings in the city at the time.

It was the first Edmonton building to have a “curtain wall” style, meaning the exterior walls, made of glass or metal sandwiched between aluminum rods, bear none of the building’s weight.

In 1953, CCF leader Elmer Roper demanded to know who was responsible for the “monstrous eyesore” blocking views of the legislature building, according to an article in the Edmonton Journal.

“It is difficult to understand how anyone in a responsible position could have had so little imagination as to want to perpetuate that atrocity on this capital city,” he said of the then-new building.

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