OTTAWA – Be it renovated or razed, the resurrection of 24 Sussex Drive should be documented as a showcase of Canadian history and innovation, says an expert in public portrayals of what — and what not — to do with older home projects.
Ever since Justin Trudeau confirmed that he’s giving the prime minister’s official residence a wide berth, Bryan Baeumler has received several inquiries about whether he’d tackle a reno job at Canada’s most famous address.
Baeumler, host of a battery of HGTV renovation shows — “Disaster DIY,” “House of Bryan,” “Leave it to Bryan” and “Canada’s Handyman Challenge” — and president of Baeumler Quality Construction in Oakville, Ont., said he would jump at the chance to take on the challenge if he worked in the national capital area.
“There’s lots of great, qualified local (Ottawa) construction companies that can handle it, but of course — what a project!” Baeumler said in response to one query on his Twitter account.
There have been a few suggestions, most of them tongue-in-cheek, that the project be made into a reality TV series. For Baeumler, the notion immediately raises questions about historical integrity, security and red tape.
After all, 24 Sussex Drive is effectively owned by taxpayers, managed by the National Capital Commission, guarded by the RCMP and holds a historical signifigance that cannot be ignored.
“I’m not sure what the tangled web of restrictions and red tape might be,” he said. “There’d be quite a quagmire of duelling opinions.”
But it’s not the first time Baeumler has been asked about the possibility.
A couple years ago, he sat down to dinner with a friend who lived at 24 Sussex in his early years — Ben Mulroney, son of former prime minister Brian Mulroney — and tossed around ideas about creating a TV show around renovations to the drafty old house, he said.
Another celebrity home renovator added his voice to the debate Friday.
Mike Holmes, star of the reality show “Holmes on Homes,” told his Facebook followers he’d be prepared to get involved.
“I’ve read all your posts about the problems with 24 Sussex Drive and that Justin Trudeau won’t be moving in,” Holmes wrote. “I do know the best renovator in Ottawa that would be happy to help. Say the word and we’ll grab our tools!”
There would be some benefits of having reality TV producers step in, including taming the cost of the project, which has been estimated to be at least $10 million — a seven-year-old dollar figure that’s likely higher now.
It could also generate publicity for companies that would be involved.
“A show would be interesting. It would give people in Canada, I think, more of a sense of ownership of the property if they got to see it — and it would certainly keep the process a little more transparent,” Baeumler said.
“I think it’d be a great opportunity for Canadian corporations that supply products sourced and manufactured in Canada to showcase them. There’d certainly be sponsorship opportunities.”
The NCC said it could not provide any information in response to requests for an interview.
A spokesman for Trudeau would only say that the prime minister-designate has not decided how to proceed with the property, other than determining that he, his wife Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau, and their three children won’t move in after Wednesday’s swearing-in ceremony.
“Mr. Trudeau will be making decisions once he has been fully briefed by officials,” said press secretary Cameron Ahmad. “Until then, his family will be living at Rideau Cottage” — a residence on the grounds of Rideau Hall, the home of Canada’s Governor General.
There’s been no shortage of opinions about what to do with the property.
Maureen McTeer, the wife of former prime minister Joe Clark and herself a former 24 Sussex resident, told CBC Radio this week that the home should be torn down and replaced with a new structure.
The building is more than just a house, said McTeer — it represents a Canadian idea.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his family lived at 24 Sussex Drive since 2006, despite an auditor general’s report in 2008 that detailed its state of disrepair.
The report highlighted a number of problems, including cracked windows and problems with the plumbing and electrical systems, and estimated the cost of renovating the building at $10 million.
That price tag is now likely $15 million or higher, depending on what contractors are liable to find lurking behind the walls, said Baeumler.
No matter how the project unfolds, there should be publicity around it to give Canadians more of a reason to see it as an iconic symbol, he added.
“I think that would help to elevate the status maybe and make Canadians a little more proud of our democracy and our system and our infrastructure,” he said.
“I think it’s an opportunity to really create an incredible symbol and a legacy and set an example for our kids and the rest of the world that you have to take care of your own house, literally and figuratively.”
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