Historic Ottawa Development Inc. releases statement on Prime Minister’s Residence

A review of reports regarding the Prime Minister’s Residence at 24 Sussex Dr. is being conducted by Historic Ottawa Development Inc. (HODI).

Photo credit: Heritage Ottawa

Historic Ottawa Development Inc. (HODI) is currently conducting a review of reports regarding 24 Sussex Dr.

The Prime Minister’s Residence at 24 Sussex Dr., is an expansive stone house that exhibits an elegant and formal classical style, incorporating elements that blend harmoniously with earlier, more picturesque characteristics. Situated on extensive grounds, the residence offers a captivating view of the Ottawa River.

Due to its direct connection to six Canadian prime ministers, its recognition as a prominent national landmark, and its profound influence on the overall ambiance of the surrounding area, the Prime Minister’s Residence has been officially designated as a Classified Federal Heritage Building, according to Canada’s Historic Places.

HODI’s analysis is based on reports obtained through ATIP requests submitted to the National Capital Commission (NCC) and Privy Council Office (PCO).

A release noted that the media’s portrayal of the $37 million cost estimate for “deferred maintenance” work on the main residence building is misleading.

The $37 million figure originates from the “NCC 2021 Official Residences of Canada Asset Portfolio Condition Report,” which estimates the “deferred maintenance” costs at $36.64 million. However, this estimate requires interpretation, says HODI.

In HODI’s analysis, the$37 million figure is based on a 2017 report by Turner and Townsend titled “Cost Assurance and Benchmarking Exercise – 24 Sussex Drive.” This report analyzed third-party cost estimates from 2009, which were reported to be $10 million at the time.

The analysis employed a functional programming approach that compared estimates to costs for other official residences worldwide. While the Turner and Townsend report deemed the estimates “reasonable and based on a sound and best practice approach to developing cost estimates,” it also emphasized contingencies of 20 per cent, escalations, and cost allowances for significant renovations within the Main Residence that have not been scoped or designed yet.

Notably, the cost estimate includes approximately 4,000 sq. ft. of new building space on-site and renovations to the existing pool building.

The report states, “We are unable to comment on the $/sf allowance for interior repurposing and future space addition in the absence of identified scope for these items.”

As a result, HODI is concerned about the negative public opinion bias surrounding the future of 24 Sussex Dr. due to the misinterpretation of the $37 million cost estimate in media reports, which create an impression that the Main Residence necessitates $37 million for repairs and rodent extermination.

“HODI hopes to break the endless repetitive cycle of negatively biased media reporting on the state and future of 24 Sussex, by sharing some of the information derived from our near year-long review of documentation (some redacted) obtained from NCC and PCO through ATIP requests,” said Ken Grafton, project director.

“The sensationalistic and widely-reported $37M cost estimate, currently influencing millions of Canadians to a view favouring demolition of this national treasure, requires a great deal of professional unpacking and explanation in order to understand fully. To date, no one has accurately reported where that number originated and what it includes (such as contingencies, cost allowances, escalations, and 4,000 sq. ft. of new building space on-site).”

To clarify the origins of this figure, HODI’s report emphasizes that the $37 million is derived from the 2009 cost estimate of $10 million.

Situated on a highly frequented tourist route in the National Capital, 24 Sussex Drive is a national heritage gem and holds the “Classified” designation by the Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office (FHBRO).

As per the Official Residences Act, the government is legally obligated to fully fund maintenance at 4 per cent of the replacement value ($40 million) annually, in accordance with the “Government of Canada’s Guide to the Management of Real Property.”

The 2022 NCC report titled “Revitalizing the Residence of the Prime Minister of Canada” recommended the “recapitalization and redesign of the existing building at 24 Sussex Drive.”

“The Canadian public widely believes that the Main Residence needs $37M worth of bricks and mortar repairs, which largely drove the alarming Angus Reid poll results earlier this year which suggested that one in three Canadians want this national treasure demolished (the replacement of which would actually cost $40M, according to NCC). This gross misimpression needs to corrected,” said Grafton.