British Columbia government documents say building a new provincial museum for $800 million would cost less than renovating

Opposition Liberals have called the proposed replacement a ‘billion dollar vanity project’ and pledge to roll back reconstruction if they win the 2024 election

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VICTORIA – The British Columbia government chose to replace the Royal BC Museum for about $800 million after considering repairs and renovations to the existing building that could have cost about $300 million more, according to released documents Wednesday.

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The documents, which run to thousands of pages, cover the NDP government’s design process and business plans for the museum project dating back to 2018, Tourism Minister Melanie Mark told a news conference. .

On May 13, the government announced an eight-year plan to demolish the institution and build a new provincial museum at the current location in downtown Victoria.

“I understand this investment is a lot of money, but we’re just not going to take this project down the road,” Mark said. “We don’t want to take the risk of destroying our culture, our collective history.”

She said documents indicate the museum stores seven million exhibits, including the largest collection of works by artist Emily Carr, but can only display one percent of its total collection at any time.

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The current museum building has been partially closed since January, when management abruptly decided to dismantle its popular human history galleries in the name of ‘decolonizing’ an attraction it said was plagued by ‘systemic racism’ .

Screenshot of the business case to replace the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, as presented to media on May 25, 2022.
Screenshot of the business case to replace the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, as presented to media on May 25, 2022.

Opposition Liberals have called the proposed replacement a “billion-dollar vain project”, and Liberal Leader Kevin Falcon has said he would cancel the reconstruction if elected prime minister in 2024.

However, BC Liberal Jobs Critic Todd Stone notes that demolition of the current museum will begin in the spring of 2024, months before the October provincial election.

Stone said Wednesday he was “shocked that the government is stepping up on this project” despite public outcry.

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Significant parts of the 109-page business case are blacked out, including redactions on the breakdown of capital costs for each of the project components. The indicative drawing is also blacked out.

Stone said he was concerned that key information on cost allocation and risk analysis had been withheld from the public. The release of the government’s business case was an “elaborate exercise of smoke and mirrors” that will not win over worried British Columbians, he said.

Mark said the documents highlight the government’s business case after considering options for a building that is seismically unsafe, includes hazardous materials and is at risk of flooding.

“I hope today helps to make British Columbians realize that there is a risk in doing nothing,” she said.

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The five options explored for the museum were to continue with the status quo, revitalize, repair, rebuild on a new site, or build a new museum at the existing location, the documents say.

Costs for the five options ranged from $89 million to maintain the status quo to $1.137 billion to repair and renovate the existing building.

  1. The Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria will soon be closed and replaced in order to

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  2. Old Town, one of many iconic exhibits at the Royal BC Museum slated for demolition in just weeks.

    Canada’s largest museum will soon be gutted in the name of ‘decolonization’

The documents list the “extrapolated” cost of rebuilding on the same site as $893 million, although the government has said the project will cost $789 million.

Two years ago, the government announced it was building a satellite research and storage facility for the museum in the nearby community of Colwood, with a budget of $224 million.

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In November, the museum announced that some sections were closing to work on decolonizing its Indigenous exhibits. The move followed calls from Indigenous leaders after reports last year raised allegations of racist and toxic working conditions at the facility.

Liberal Finance Critic Peter Milobar said he was skeptical of the museum’s plan, including the cost estimate and construction schedule.

The documents released Wednesday are not complete, with many sections blanked out, he said.

“The prime minister has decided this will be his vanity legacy project,” Milobar said, adding that few NDP cabinet members have expressed support for the museum’s development.

Mark said when she presented the project plan to the government caucus, she received a standing ovation.

Prime Minister John Horgan said last week he regretted the museum project had become “political football”.

– With additional reporting from Katie DeRosa, the Vancouver Sun and the National Post

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