Without the billion-dollar plan to renew the Royal BC Museum, the BC NDP provincial government warns that BC’s most treasured artifacts and collections could be lost to a catastrophic failure of the museum built in 1968 in downtown Victoria.

Faced with a public relations backlash following last week’s major investment announcement and an extended eight-year period without Victoria’s top tourist attraction, the provincial government explained to the media on Wednesday its rationale of the approach and the first concepts for the redevelopment of the museum.

The project has also sparked controversy not only for its unexplained cost, but also for the lack of public consultation before reaching this late stage in the planning process – adding to previous public and media criticism of the museum’s decision l last fall to permanently close and empty its wildly popular third-floor galleries on European colonization without public consultation and little advance warning. Initially, reconciliation and decolonization were the main reasons for closing the third floor, but this rationale was later downplayed.

The “Risk of Doing Nothing”

According to the provincial government’s analysis of the condition of the existing complex, its low structural seismic capacity rating ranges from a low of 5% for the Archives Building and the Carillon Tower to a high of 40% for the Museum Lobby. Provincial officials have painted the picture of the building potentially collapsing even in a moderately strong earthquake.

The building’s exhibits and underground storage areas – where seven million objects and collections are stored – could be lost to structural failure.

BC Tourism Minister Melanie Mark also specifically noted that a flood could destroy the museum’s valuable Emily Carr collection stored in the existing basement. The museum is located at the edge of Victoria Inner Harbor – which is vulnerable to large tsunamis – and the underground storage spaces are located below sea level.

Besides the structural flaws, the condition of the building is also poor, with exposed rebar in the concrete in some areas, and occasional sewage backups and flooding in the building due to utility outages.

Mark said the ‘risk of doing nothing’ could ‘wipe out our culture’ and that ‘someone will be to blame if we do nothing’ and a calamity occurs at the museum. Since its construction more than half a century ago, the museum building has seen relatively little reinvestment.

“Our plan was to come out in public and understand what is at risk. There is a cost to doing nothing and protecting our shared history,” she said, adding to the need to protect visitors and museum workers.

Royal BC Museum in downtown Victoria (Google Earth)

“The most cost-effective way to get a new museum”

The provincial government considered five options to renew the museum and ultimately chose the fourth option to construct a brand new museum building on the 6.4 acre site and a new secondary facility for archives, collections, storage and research needs.

Of the five options explored, the fourth option retained is the second most expensive and the second longest on the construction schedule. The first option, the status quo, would cost $89 million, while the second option of a single new museum building on a new location would cost $811 million. The third option of constructing an entirely new museum building on the existing site would cost $893 million.

The fifth option of retaining and extensively repairing the existing complex would take the longest to build and cost more than $1.1 billion – more than the chosen fourth option of building a new on-site museum and secondary facility. Offsite.

The secondary facility will be located in the Victoria suburb of Colwood, on land acquired by the provincial government. Construction of the $224 million secondary facility in Colwood will begin later this year for completion in 2025. The provincial government is currently completing the procurement process for the design and build contractor.

Regarding the new main museum building at the current location, the provincial government explained that its cost of $789 million includes $550 million for the design and construction contract, and an additional $239 million for the cost of demolishing the existing complex, designing and equipping the new building. interior spaces with exhibitions and galleries, project management and insurance, equipment and contingency funds for unforeseen expenses. The cost explains the high annual inflation expected in the construction industry, peaking at 10% this year, 9% in 2023 and 6% in 2024.

“It’s the most cost-effective way to get a new, state-of-the-art museum,” Mark said, noting that a complete new build from scratch is easier and cheaper, and that the options to lower cost are insufficient.

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The existing Royal BC Museum in downtown Victoria. (Royal British Columbia Museum)

Regarding the eight-year closure of the main museum – given the planned closure of the existing building from September 2022 until the opening of the new museum building in 2030 – it was explained that preparing for the move would represent an important part of this schedule.

The process of packing and moving the millions of artifacts alone will take 2.5 years – initially moving the artifacts to a temporary storage facility, before moving these collections to the completed facility in Colwood in 2025. This process includes cleaning up artifacts, and even a single mask, for example, could take two to three days to clean. Before being carefully stored, all items must also be barcoded.

The museum’s closure after Labor Day 2022 allows the tedious packing process to begin so that the demolition and construction schedule is not delayed.

The demolition of the current museum building in downtown Victoria, including the removal of hazardous materials, will take another 2.5 years. The construction process of the museum building alone will take four years, followed by another year and a half to equip the exhibition spaces and galleries.

The design of the museum has not been established and no architect has been selected. But the provincial government aims to launch the procurement process for a contractor in late 2022, with the contract awarded in early 2024 – likely before the next provincial election.

The design process for the museum building would take place between early 2024 and mid-2025. The existing building would be demolished between early 2022 and summer 2025, when construction of the new building will begin.

The planning and design process for the new exhibitions and galleries will take place from summer 2024 to spring 2027.

“The [existing] the exhibits don’t reflect the past and where we are today,” Mark said, reiterating reconciliation and decolonization as part of the museum’s renewal rationale.

New and expanded world-class museum spaces in Victoria

Short of creating and commissioning an architectural design, museum officials and the provincial government have determined what the new museum building will contain.

The new replacement museum building will have a total area of ​​230,000 square feet, including 18,000 square feet of public spaces, 95,000 square feet of exhibition, learning and programming spaces, 15,500 square feet of learning and exhibit space, 17,900 square feet of building services space, and 8,500 square feet of operations and office space for the museum. Although the vast majority of RBCM’s collections and research functions will be located offsite at the Colwood facility, the Victoria Museum will still contain approximately 26,000 square feet of collections and research space, and 1,300 square feet archives and conservation space.

When the total floor areas of the Colwood facility and the new Victoria Museum building are combined, the usable spaces of the RBCM by 2030 will represent a 26% increase over what exists today. With the exhibition and gallery spaces added, the museum has a capacity for growth of 25 years.

Not only will more of the museum’s collections be displayed in the expanded exhibition and gallery spaces, given that only 1% of the collection was previously on display, but the modern facilities and equipment will enable the RBCM to attract traveling exhibits. world class from around the world. . The quality of the installation stipulates whether other museums and collections will be loaned to the RBCM.

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Very preliminary concept for the new Royal BC Museum in downtown Victoria; not the actual design. (Government of British Columbia)

royal bc museum concept victoria new

Very preliminary concept for the new Royal BC Museum in downtown Victoria; not the actual design. (Government of British Columbia)

The new museum will also have a new replacement IMAX theater that uses the latest digital technology, a multi-purpose and event space with a catering kitchen, gift shop, cafe, small retail space through a native artists’ cooperative and paid underground parking.

RBCM officials previously considered adding a hotel, office tower, restaurants and retail at street level, but later determined that these additional uses were risky and not essential to the main business. of the museum. The museum does not want to be a lessor, even if it would generate additional income.

The concept of the new museum opens up the possibility of adding a childcare component, but this is currently not included in the project and is dependent on additional funding.

Premier John Horgan has previously indicated that the building will use solid timber construction, incorporate traditional Aboriginal design considerations and be built to a high green design standard.

Mark says the structural safety issues at the existing complex have been known since the 2000s and she received a standing ovation from her BC NDP colleagues for her commitment to doing this job.

Thousands of pages of analysis, studies and planning documents on the RBCM were released to the media on Wednesday, but much of it is heavily redacted.