The second of four phases for the Province House restoration project is now complete, but it's still unclear when the Charlottetown landmark will reopen to the public, when it will resume hosting the P.E.I. Legislative Assembly, and what the final cost will be.
The project began in 2015, the year Wade MacLauchlan was sworn in as premier and led the Liberals to a third consecutive term in government, and P.E.I. set a record for snowfall with 550 centimetres having fallen by April.
The work was originally set to be completed three years later at a cost of about $10.2 million.
It faced numerous setbacks, including rot found inside the walls, restrictions imposed as the COVID-19 pandemic set in, and a mid-project change in sub-contractors.
Parks Canada, which is overseeing the project, eventually said it was aiming to have the work completed at the end of this year — five years behind schedule — at a cost of $91.8 million.
But those numbers are now being revised, said Nicolle Gallant, the project manager for Parks Canada.
"It's very complicated," she said. "We just really didn't know what we were getting into until we were in here and we were really opening up the walls and saw the state of the masonry and saw the water was coming in from the roof. We really couldn't have known."
Phase 2 of the project, which began in 2018 and finished in 2022, involved much of the masonry work, the roof and the conservation of 101 windows.
Phase 3 underway
Phase 3, which is now underway, focuses on preserving the character-defining elements of Province House, according to Parks Canada. It includes painting, as well as taking care of the heritage woodwork and flooring. There are also upgrades for operational components such as fire and safety systems, information technology and audio-visual, plumbing, electrical and ventilation systems.
The fourth and final phase involves the development of the new inclusive, multi-perspective visitor experience and interpretive exhibits.
Parks Canada said it can't determine the final cost until all the tenders come in, noting that some of the bids contractors submitted were higher than anticipated.
The end date is also yet to be determined, though one thing is certain: The work won't be finished by the end of 2023.
Tim Chandler, senior project manager with Public Services and Procurement Canada who has been involved with the Province House renos since the beginning, said the market has changed in the last eight years.
"Trades are in shorter supply, materials are taking longer to procure. All those things are impacting cost and schedule."
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation has been critical of the cost overruns, but Gallant believes it's still money well spent, given the historical significance of the building.
P.E.I.'s legislature began meeting at Province House in 1847, nearly two decades before it hosted the Charlottetown conference that led to Canada's Confederation. The building is the second-oldest seat of government in Canada, after the Nova Scotia House of Assembly in Halifax.
"We have so much historical significance in this building and I just think it's really important to try and commemorate that as much as we can," Gallant said.