POLITICS

Alberta's renovated Federal Building to take staff, MLAs starting in February

01/07/2015 04:22 EST | Updated 03/09/2015 05:59 EDT
EDMONTON - After six years, four premiers and an estimated cost of $375 million, the Alberta government is set to start moving people into the renovated historic Federal Building.

The challenge then becomes what to call it.

Dave Prisco, spokesman for Alberta Infrastructure, said Wednesday that final tests and fixes are underway on the building, located a stone's throw from the legislature. Staff are to begin moving in Feb. 1.

"It's substantially complete. We've taken it over, but they're still doing interior work," said Prisco.

The government plans to get an occupancy permit from the city on Jan. 30 and "in February people will start working there," he said.

The building made national headlines last year when it was revealed that former premier Alison Redford's office had ordered revisions to transform the top floor into a swank penthouse retreat for Redford and her daughter. Plans called for the "sky palace" to be modelled after a ritzy hotel in Washington, D.C., with bedrooms, showers, a butler's pantry, powder rooms and other luxuries.

The penthouse came to light shortly after Redford quit the top job last March amidst a party and caucus revolt fuelled, in part, by her lavish pending.

The top floor has now been returned to its original configuration as meeting rooms.

The refurbished 1950s, 11-floor art-deco-style structure will be the work space for 600 people, including opposition MLAs and government backbenchers.

Premier Jim Prentice and his cabinet will continue to work in the legislature building.

The new digs will also have hosting and conference rooms, a gift shop, visitor's centre, museum, media space and an 80-seat theatre.

The restored lobby is the centrepiece. It has six kinds of marble, nickel-plated doors and unique light fixtures and ceiling accents.

Prisco said the government is still deciding whether to keep the Federal Building name or change it.

The renovation was announced under former premier Ed Stelmach, who later suggested renaming the building to honour former Tory premier Peter Lougheed.

Work began in 2009 at a cost of $356 million, but it proved to be a rocky, controversial and expensive renovation that absorbed millions of dollars in cost overruns to shore up floors and remove asbestos.

The renos were scaled back to $275 million in succeeding years as the province grappled to balance the budget, then jacked up again to the current estimate of $375 million.

The building was initially expected to open in the fall of 2011.

Opposition politicians have criticized the project as a symbol of excess and entitlement under the Progressive Conservatives.

Former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith labelled it the "Taj Mahal of provincial waste."

In December, Smith and Anderson led seven of their Wildrose colleagues across the floor to the Tories.