OTTAWA — Parliament Hill's iconic Centre Block won't be shutting down this summer, delaying the start of a badly needed renovation until at least next year.
Senators and MPs decided Thursday that they won't officially move out of their current home until the end of this calendar year to make sure they aren't rushed into temporary abodes that may not be be ready to host either parliamentary chamber by September, as originally planned.
Federal officials overseeing a massive renovation of the buildings that make up the parliamentary precinct had planned to close the Centre Block for a decade-long rehab starting this summer.
But the Senate and House of Commons were told their temporary homes may not be ready in time for a mid-summer move, requiring a leap of faith without the possibility of going back to the Centre Block if systems weren't ready.
"It's very, very close and maybe they could be ready by the 15th of September ... but there was a pretty good chance that they wouldn't," said Sen. Scott Tannas, who heads the Senate committee overseeing the upper house's relocation to temporary quarters in Ottawa's former downtown railway station.
On Thursday morning, the Senate's internal economy committee approved a phased-in moving schedule to relocate senators' offices in the fall, followed by a final move into a new Senate chamber starting in late December after senators leave for their winter break.
Hours later, MPs on the House of Commons' board of internal economy made a similar decision: Some MPs' offices in the Centre Block will start migrating to neighbouring buildings this summer but a final move will have to wait until after the winter adjournment, which typically starts shortly before Christmas.
Commons Speaker Geoff Regan said in a statement the decision was taken after a "thorough status review and risk analysis of the Centre Block project."
The only politicians who will have offices in the Centre Block until the end of the year would be the party leaders, House and Senate leaders, and whips. Everyone else, including cabinet ministers, will be moved out.
However, the House of Commons and Senate chambers will continue to sit in their traditional Centre Block locations until the end of the year.
The decision means workers will be able to access upper levels of the Centre Block and peer behind walls to assess what they're up against as they stare down a massively complex project to rehabilitate and modernize one of the country's most iconic buildings.
The project has been years in the making, including renovations to the East Block and other neighbouring buildings on or near Parliament Hill and creating a temporary Commons chamber inside the West Block, complete with a glass roof.
"Parliament is a unique environment that requires a fully functional and operational facility with uninterrupted services," Regan said in a statement.
"Taking the time to ensure that the West Block is fully functional with all required technology, that it provides safe and secure facilities, and that it has the appropriate level of fully trained service staff is imperative to sustaining the work of Parliament."
Rehabilitating the parliamentary buildings is expected to cost more than $1 billion once all work is complete, and the Senate, Commons and the department overseeing the work say the phased relocation won't increase the budget for renovations.
Public Services and Procurement Canada said in an email that costs depend on workers getting access to "significant empty portions of the Centre Block" to check on the state of the building, and that the Centre Block is completely vacated by the end of 2018.
The department didn't say what the decision means for the project's timelines.
Tannas said the change in schedule doesn't delay the start of the 10-year construction plan.
Jordan Press, The Canadian Press