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B.C. documents outline case to build new provincial museum in Victoria at $800M cost

VICTORIA — The British Columbia government chose to replace the Royal B.C.
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People walk towards the Royal B.C. Museum in Victoria, on Dec. 21, 2017. The B.C. government has released documents it says led to the decision to rebuild the museum at a cost almost $800 million. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

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

The documents, which number thousands of pages, cover the New Democrat government's concept process and business case plans for the museum project dating back to 2018, Tourism Minister Melanie Mark said at a news conference.

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

"I understand that this investment is a lot of money, but we will simply not kick this project down the road," said Mark. "We are not willing to take the risk of wiping out our culture, our collective history."

She said the documents say the museum stores seven million exhibits, including the largest collection of works by artist Emily Carr, but is only able to display one per cent of its total collection at any time.

The Opposition Liberals have called the proposed replacement a "billion-dollar vanity project," and Liberal Leader Kevin Falcon says he will cancel the rebuild if elected premier in 2024.

Mark said the documents highlight the government’s business case after considering options for a building that is not seismically safe, includes hazardous materials and is at risk of flooding.

"I hope today helps give understanding to British Columbians that there is a risk to doing nothing," she said.

The five options explored for the museum were to continue with the status quo, revitalization, repair, rebuilding on a new site, or to 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 spending $1.137 billion to repair and renovate the existing building. 

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 facility for research and storage for the museum in the neighbouring community of Colwood, budgeted at $224 million. 

In November, the museum announcedsome sections were closing to work to decolonize its Indigenous exhibits. The move was in response to calls from Indigenous leaders after reports released last year made allegations of racist and toxic working conditions at the institution.

Liberal finance critic Peter Milobar said he is skeptical of the museum plan, including the cost estimate and construction timeline.

The documents released Wednesday are not complete, with numerous sections blacked out, he said.

"The premier decided that this was going to be his vanity legacy project," said Milobar, adding that few members of the NDP cabinet have expressed their support for the museum development.

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

Premier John Horgan said last week he regretted the museum project has become a "political football."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 25, 2022.

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press