Montreal City Hall reopens its doors after delays, increases to renovation costs

Long lines of visitors are shown at Montreal’s City Hall on Saturday June 8, 2024. City Hall has reopened its doors to the public today after five years worth of renovations that took longer than expected and ran over budget.. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Joe Bongiorno

Montreal residents streamed back into the seat of municipal government for the first time in five years on Saturday as the historic City Hall building reopened to the public following prolonged and costly renovations.

Long lines of visitors snaked around the revamped heritage building waiting for their chance to see the $211 million upgrade that began in 2019 – nearly double the cost projected the year before work got underway.

City counsellor Ericka Alneus said she expected thousands of visitors to explore the refurbished building on Saturday, adding the renovations mean many of Montreal’s elected officials – herself included – will now be able to work out of City Hall for the first time since the last round of municipal elections.

“I’m pleased to see that people decided to come and visit their house," she said. "This is the house of the citizens.”

Along with its masonry and bronzework, hundreds of wooden and stained-glass windows were restored, and the building now features an outdoor terrace and a permanent museum exhibit. The renovation project marked the most significant facelift since a fire damaged the building over a century ago.

On Friday, Menaud Lapointe, the architect in charge of the renovations, said a wide array of artisans were consulted to breathe new life into the space.

The renovations also unearthed unexpected discoveries, he said — some original materials like marble were uncovered underneath old carpeting, while windows were found behind walls. Some less welcome discoveries, like asbestos and lead, further delayed the project.

After cutting the ribbon during Friday's inauguration ceremony for the upgraded building, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante told reporters new features like newly raised ceilings and freshly-installed windows, have transformed City Hall into a more inviting space.

"What struck me on day one and what strikes me every morning is the light,” she said. “It’s so much more open.”

The mayor also said renovations were necessary to both decarbonize the building and make the space more accessible and welcoming for Montrealers, even if it came with additional costs.

“It’s a complete different experience of City Hall," she added, saying the idea is for people to engage with the space in ways they had not been able to before, whether that means stopping by to learn about their city's history or have a cup of coffee and chat at the new café.

“For me, it’s money that was well spent and was worth it because it was the biggest heritage renovation project in Quebec after the ۰ͼ Assembly," said Plante, pointing to the COVID-19 pandemic, rising construction costs and labour shortages as reasons for delays in completing the renovations.

Ahuntsic-Cartierville borough Mayor Émilie Thuillier also believes the investment will pay off in the long run.

“It’s clear that when you take a little more time to finish a project it costs a little more but in the end, we have something of quality and that’s what is important,” she said.

“The building is good for another hundred years, so I think 200 million for 100 years is significant.”

This report by ۰ͼ was first published June 8, 2024.

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