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National Capital Commission has spent $767K on assessing 24 Sussex whose future is still unknown


‘When Canadian homeowners are considering what to do with their house, they don’t have the luxury of six years and three-quarters of a million dollars to spend to perhaps make a decision’

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OTTAWA — Getting ready to make a decision on the future of 24 Sussex Drive has cost taxpayers $767,000 without a single decision being made on whether to renovate or tear down the prime minister’s official residence.

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Conservative Sen. Don Plett asked the government for details on the planning work and in a written response was told the National Capital Commission has spent the money on engineering reports, heritage assessments and feasibility studies to look at bringing the 12,000-square-foot home up to standards.

In its written response the National Capital Commission, which is responsible for the home that dates to 1868, said it wants a full assessment of the property.

“The NCC recognizes the historic and symbolic importance of the residence of Canada’s Prime Minister and is ensuring that issues related to security, functionality, environmental sustainability, universal accessibility, design excellence and heritage preservation are taken into consideration.”

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The home on the Ottawa River has been the official residence of prime ministers since 1950, but it has fallen into disrepair. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau refused to move his family into the home — where he spent much of his own childhood — when he was first elected in 2015. Instead the Trudeaus live in Rideau Cottage on the grounds of the governor general’s mansion.

The building has considerable amounts of lead, mould and asbestos, which would all need to be removed. The electrical system is considered a fire hazard and the plumbing fails regularly. Of the six official residences the NCC manages, 24 Sussex is the only one currently listed in critical condition.

The latest assessment indicates that the pool house on the property needs “a new building envelope,” which would require replacing the walls, windows, doors, roof and skylight, because of rot and mould.

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The official residence, which the government purchased in 1949, is also considered too small to serve official functions, but also too large for a family home. Security upgrades have also been suggested over the years to make it safer.

Just last year, an armed man smashed his pickup truck into the gate at Rideau Hall and proceeded to walk toward Trudeau’s residence before being confronted by RCMP.

Not having a prime minister in the residence has not saved on upkeep however; the building has cost roughly $250,000 for basic maintenance as well as heat and power.

Over the past decade the government has spent nearly $3 million on larger projects at the 34-room residence, but most of those stopped when Trudeau came to office.

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Plett asked in the Senate Tuesday when the government is actually going to make a call on 24 Sussex.

“When Canadian homeowners are considering what to do with their house, they don’t have the luxury of six years and three-quarters of a million dollars to spend to perhaps make a decision one day,” he said. “When taxpayers are footing the bill, however, and we see this time and again, it’s easy for this government to spend unlimited time and money to develop a renovation plan.”

Plett didn’t get an answer in the Senate chamber.

Current estimates indicate it could cost the NCC more than $36 million to fix all of the building’s deficiencies. The NCC has also studied the option of demolishing the residence and starting anew with a building more specifically designed to serve as an official residence.

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The NCC said in a statement the studies it ordered were necessary to make a good decision.

“The completed studies and reports have allowed the NCC to gain a sound understanding of the building condition and the work that would be required going forward to ensure the federal government is able to make a prudent and informed decision,” said an NCC spokesperson.

It did not provide any timeline for when a decision would be made. But the commission would ultimately need government funding for the project, making it the Liberal government’s final decision.

Trudeau has said he doesn’t expect his family will ever live in the home given the timeline for making repairs.

• Email: rtumilty@postmedia.com | Twitter:

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