I do have some formal opening comments, but I'll try to address some of those questions up front so that sets the stage, if that would be okay.
The location of the visitor welcome centre is obviously a really critical matter to this study. You would all be aware of where phase one of the visitor welcome centre is located, in between Centre Block and West Block, which creates the new public entrance to West Block. The blasting that was referenced through some of the discussion in the first hour was related to the creation of that phase one of the visitor welcome centre. It's a large excavation.
Although the final elements that will be going into the visitor welcome centre are not final at this point, and we're working very closely with officials within the parliamentary administration to clarify that, it is becoming clearer over time. We'd be happy to come and make a presentation on where things are at. We do know, however, and have known for a long time, the broad contours of the visitor welcome centre. The visitor welcome centre in simple terms has phase one as the western section in between West Block and Centre Block. We would see the mirror image of that on the eastern side. The parliamentary complex, the triad, would work together as an integrated complex. As people were referencing during the discussion, it would extend out under the front lawn in front of Centre Block and be a fairly significant facility that would connect the triad and create a host of services that have been requested by Parliament.
First and foremost, of course, it creates significant enhanced security to the triad. That has for a long time now, in getting to an integrated visitor welcome centre, been seen as a priority. Two, it provides a universally accessible, barrier-free front door to Parliament for the first time, obviously extremely important; a number of services for Canadians who will be visiting the Parliament Buildings; interpretive services provided by the Library of Parliament; and of course core services. The intent would be to have some core services for Parliament as well. At this point, working with parliamentary officials, and again it's not final, it would be envisioned to have some committee rooms within the visitor welcome centre as well. We have heard loud and clear on Centre Block that it is very important to retain the look and feel of Centre Block. You would see many important services taking place within the visitor welcome centre. That would enable a restoration instead of a changing of Centre Block, which I think we've heard, critically.
That's the visitor welcome centre. We would be happy to come back or follow up with some images that could demonstrate that in a clear manner.
On the question about irrigation, there is no irrigation in that area. It happens from natural rainfall. Perhaps Ms. MacDonald can speak to this more clearly.
There is a suite of maples, for the most part, and the elm tree is in the area. Some of the maples are invasive. There are some linden trees that are invasive as well. Then there are a number of indigenous trees. My understanding is that maple trees are more susceptible to drought than elm, but you see some of those being quite healthy.
Now, the range of opinion on the health of the tree is critically important, because the conversation really began with asking, “What is the condition of the tree? Would it really be viable for removal and replanting?” Initially, we had a couple of different perspectives, going back to 1995, when a very eminent arborist indicated that it would have a lifespan of about 20 plus years, which we're at about now due to a couple of factors, of having suffered from Dutch elm disease and....
Just by way of interest, I grew up in “the city of stately elms”, Fredericton, New Brunswick. I've been an elm tree lover for a long time.
We took this very seriously. We had some differing reports, so essentially we went out and got a second opinion and a third opinion, as you would if you were getting a medical diagnosis. In fact, I think at this point there are six assessments. It would seem fairly conclusive evidence—and I'll maybe have Ms. MacDonald speak to this more specifically—that the tree is in poor and declining health and is not a good candidate to be removed and replanted, which really informed our advice.
With that, I'll move to formal comments.
Good afternoon. My name is Robert Wright, and I am the Assistant Deputy Minister for the Parliamentary Precinct at Public Services and Procurement Canada, or PSPC.
Also here with me today is Jennifer Garrett, the Director General for the Centre Block rehabilitation program, as well as the professional arborist Lisa MacDonald who works under the design team for the project, CENTRUS.
Mr. Chair, I would like to start my remarks today by thanking you and all the committee members for your keen interest in the restoration and modernization of the Parliamentary Precinct.
Public Services and Procurement Canada is committed to working in partnership with Parliament in implementing our long-term vision and plan that is focused on restoring and modernizing the parliamentary precinct to ensure it meets the needs of a modern parliament and continues to serve as an inviting environment where Canadians can gather.
A core part of this joint plan is the restoration of the iconic Centre Block and the construction of an expanded visitor welcome centre, which will provide important services to parliamentarians and the Canadian public visiting Parliament Hill, providing both enhanced security and a barrier-free front door to Parliament.
Our joint plan to restore and modernize the precinct extends beyond the buildings to safeguarding and renewing the parliamentary grounds and all other spaces key to the operations of Canada's parliamentary democracy.
The landscape and the setting, including the great lawn that serves as Canada's market square as well as the rugged escarpment and the urban forest, are as much a part of what makes the precinct uniquely Canadian as the beautiful neo-gothic buildings themselves.
The restoration of Centre Block and, more to the point, the construction of the next phase of the visitor welcome centre, which will be located underground to minimize the visual impact to this important landscape, will require significant excavation work. Unfortunately, there are a number of trees, including the large elm tree, in the middle of the excavation zone.
To enable the work to proceed, it is impossible for the trees located in the excavation zone to remain in place. Although excavation work is not scheduled to begin for several months, it is highly dependent on the completion of preparatory work this spring and summer on the east side of Centre Block. These preparatory activities include archeological work, the relocation of underground services including an IT duct bank and the completion of a construction road.
Demonstrating leadership in sustainability is a core objective of the long-term vision and plan and the Centre Block rehabilitation. Public Services and Procurement Canada is committed to working with Parliament to reduce its environmental footprint, as well as protecting and enhancing Parliament's urban forest.
As a means to achieving this important commitment, Public Services and Procurement Canada has developed a comprehensive strategy to minimize the impacts of this required excavation work as much as possible. The focus of this plan is on relocating, wherever feasible, healthy trees that are indigenous to the area and replacing within the precinct all removed trees at a 4:1 ratio. Note that this plan exceeds the National Capital Commission best practice recommendation of replacing trees at a 2:1 ratio.
Of the 30 impacted trees, 14 will be relocated within the precinct. Of the 16 that will be removed, eight are invasive species. To offset the removal of the 16 trees, 64 new trees will be planted within the precinct.
Additionally, the Centre Block and visitor welcome centre projects will include the implementation of a landscape plan that will see additional trees replanted in the east pleasure grounds.
To implement these plans, we worked hand in hand with parliamentary officials who have been engaged throughout the process. We also engaged with the federal heritage buildings review office, given Parliament Hill's important status, and with the National Capital Commission, which reviewed our plans and provided approval to proceed.
In addition, Minister Qualtrough has communicated with the Greenspace Alliance of Canada's Capital about the plan to remove the tree. Departmental officials also met with representatives of that organization. In addition, PSPC responded to a joint letter from the speakers of the House of Commons and the Senate of Canada.
I want to ensure the committee that removing trees in the parliamentary precinct is seen as a last-resort option. Unfortunately, the American elm tree is located in a high-intensity construction zone requiring significant excavation work and will not be able to remain in its existing location.
Given the tree cannot stay in its location, Public Services and Procurement Canada sought the advice of independent experts on the possibility of relocating the tree. Multiple arborists were consulted. They found that the elm is in deteriorating health, and given its health, the elm would not likely survive the trauma of relocation even if world-leading best practices in tree relocation are used. The costs to relocate the tree would be significant, estimated at approximately $400,000. These costs were developed by the construction management firm for the project, PCL/EllisDon, in joint venture. The combination of the elm's declining health, its low likelihood of survival and the significant costs that are involved led us to recommend the tree be removed.
Even if the construction on the visitor welcome centre does not proceed as discussed here earlier and the tree remains in place, significant construction activities in support of the Centre Block rehabilitation, such as the excavation of the foundation and work on the building's exterior masonry, will undoubtedly cause the tree stress and exacerbate its already poor condition. To preserve the legacy of the American elm, it is proposed that the dominion sculptor repurpose the wood in consultation with Parliament. As you may be aware, the thrones used in the newly restored Senate of Canada building used wood donated by the Queen from her estate.
As well, on the advice of the Greenspace Alliance of Canada's Capital, we are working with the University of Guelph to propagate the elm as well as provide genetic samples to support the university's elm recovery project. We recently took approximately 100 twig samples with the objective of being able to propagate up to approximately 50 elms within the parliamentary precinct.
This means that the tree samplings will be reproduced under scientific supervision, and we are committed to continue to work with Greenspace Alliance to commemorate the tree and to work with them and Parliament to find appropriate locations where the newly propagated elms might be planted.
Now that parliamentary operations have been moved out of Centre Block, we are preparing to begin the major rehabilitation program. We want to keep the project on track so that Centre Block can be reinstated as the seat of government as soon as possible. Work in the east pleasure grounds starting this spring is essential to maintain the program's momentum.
In closing, I would like to reiterate that the ongoing engagement with Parliament is essential to ensure that the work being undertaken meets the needs of a 21st century parliamentary democracy without losing touch with our collective past.
Once again, I would like to thank you for your interest, and I would be happy to respond to questions from committee members.