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New BC Museum has many roads to take

museum, interior
General impression (artist's rendering) of the Royal BC Museum interior. [BC Govt - May 2022]

Wednesday May 25, 2022 | COLWOOD, BC [Updated 5:07 pm]

Analysis by Mary P Brooke | Island Social Trends

Today many members of the news media heard several hours of BC government info about plans for the proposed new Royal BC Museum. There is information, background and now public opinion to pull together on what seems to have touched a raw nerve with the public.

After five years of ‘due diligence and developing a business case’, the provincial government’s effort is to now “bring more awareness about the complexity of the work”, said Tourism, Art, Culture and Sport Minister Melanie Mark today.

Minister Mark admits that her “Friday the 13th” public roll out about the large-scale capital project has not gone over very well. British Columbians — along with their businesses and communities — are still in various stages of socioeconomic recovery as the COVID pandemic becomes normalized into our daily lives and ways of doing things. Financial impacts of the rapidly increasing cost of living are on everyone’s mind.

To land a nearly $1 billion project into the public sphere at this time evidently required more delicate public relations work. It’s possible that the COVID-related impacts on BC communities and individuals were at first distracting, but are now materializing in unexpected ways. That brings stress, and reaction to the sound of things being expensive.

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Downtown building replacement, temporary storage in North Saanich, and a new collections building now under construction in Colwood. [BC Govt – May 25, 2022]

Museum modernization in the works for years:

Mark explained how the Horgan NDP government has been working on modernizing the Royal BC Museum since they were first elected to government in 2017. It is often the case that when a lot of work is done bureaucratically that the finer nuances of making the overall scope and detail of the project public runs into confusion as to best delivery.

As for missing the beat on how aware the public was about the museum development plans, it could easily be argued that COVID was a distracting factor for both government and the public.

There was some public input received online in 2019, but that was rather low-key compared to some other public input initiatives by the pre-COVID provincial government.

Modernizing the Royal BC Museum was included in the 2019 and 2020 BC Throne Speeches.

The BC Greens have said this afternoon that “while we are thankful to finally see the business case, this has been a public relations disaster”, a quote attributed to Adam Olsen, MLA (Saanich North and the Islands) and a member of Tsartlip First Nation. They state that the BC government “failed to bring people along in a process that has been ongoing for years”.

Colwood, summer 2022, ad

Proposed cost:

The proposed cost for the overall project is $789 million “which may seem like a lot for a capital project”, said Minister Mark today. But she notes the size of the facility and the importance of having a safe facility for workers, the public and storage of the artifacts.

The project budget has increased quite a bit in the last couple of years simply due to various cost pressures related to construction and supply.

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Proposed costs to build a new Royal BC Museum. [BC Govt – May 25, 2022]

Government comparison:

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Melanie Mark, Minister of Tourism, Art, Culture and Sport

While she laid blame on the previous BC Government for ‘doing nothing’ to move along the needs of the aging museum, she did rhetorically ask as to ‘whose fault it would be’ if there were an earthquake or major flood and nothing had been done. “There is a risk to doing nothing,” she said a few times today.

She claimed that the “previous government” had made no seismic upgrades to schools, had built few to no hospitals, had worsened the employment conditions for health-care workers, and had not helped people with disabilities or those who are on social assistance. By contrast, the Horgan NDP government has made strides for improvements in all those areas.

Meeting 21st-century standards:

The current Royal BC Museum building in downtown Victoria was built in 1967. Minister Mark points out a few things — like Internet connectivity and classroom space for students (including post-secondary) to learn on-site — would be part of a modern facility.

Not to mention that the building is evidently entirely seismically deficient, and that the lower two floors are below sea level. Considerations for being in an earthquake zone and near the ocean are part of the due diligence to protect the artifacts and the history embedded within them.

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Increasing the floor space for working areas, exhibits, storage and the visiting public. [BC Govt – May 25, 2022]

Certainly many other public spaces require seismic upgrading, including schools and hospitals. Many of those plans have been well underway for years, with budget planning in support. The museum project is on its own track and trajectory, including for other reasons such as addressing moral and treaty obligations to Indigenous peoples and local First Nations.

Meanwhile, the BC Greens observe: “The BC NDP have framed the new museum as an act of reconciliation and an opportunity for increased repatriation of items, but today’s business case clearly points to the construction of a larger and ‘modernized’ building to house our sacred items and ancestral remains as the primary objective.” Olsen says “we simply need the museum to prioritize their return”. Today Minister Mark said that negotiation and treaty considerations would be part of that process.

Mitzi Dean

Spaces in Colwood and North Saanich:

As announced in 2020, a new collections building is being constructed in Colwood. That project is already underway. Leased space in North Saanich for storing items while the main downtown museum is demolished and reconstructed is not yet available, it was revealed today.

There will be benefits to the museum upgrade. In the end, additional floor space will be achieved. The workspace for employees will be safer, and for visitors to the museum there will be more on display in a safer more accessible presentation and facility.

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Project Schedule for construction and development of a new Royal BC Museum building in downtown Victoria. [BC Govt – May 25, 2022]

During the years to the target of 2030 completion, it’s quite possible that more people will see upcoming travelling museum exhibits over the next few years than they ever did by not going into downtown Victoria to visit the old building. Apparently just one percent of the seven million museum artifacts have been on active display; between the travelling exhibits and the expanded facilities, there will be more to see, appreciate and learn about.

Design yet to come:

There are many phases and stages to development of the massive project. At first a general bidding process will get started, and then the request for proposal process will shortlist three possible project developers.

Museum site, Colwood, Sept 2020
Royal BC Museum collections building will be a new facility in Colwood. Location shown here in Sept 2020 [Island Social Trends photo]

Each of those project development teams will bring in their own designers, architects and engineers to work within requirements for functionality, safety and accessibility for workers and the public. As such, there is no design to currently show to the public.

Project timeline:

Today the Ministry of Tourism, Art, Culture and Sport released this information about how the business case was informed under the following timeline:

* 2006, 2014 and 2015 – Building assessments identify the need for major seismic and structural improvements.

* October 2018 – Government receives a concept plan as required under the Province’s capital asset management framework for capital projects more than $50 million. Produced by Partnerships BC, now Infrastructure BC, with input from the RBCM and the Ministry of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport, the plan outlines project need, alternatives to address the need and preliminary recommendations, such as detailed building assessments.

* December 2018 – Government approves the concept plan, prompting the development of a formal business case for the replacement of the museum at the Victoria downtown site.

* October 2019 – Government and the RBCM release What We Heard, a report on input collected from engagement with the public, including Indigenous communities, throughout the province.

* Spring 2020 – Government receives a preliminary business case, approves the development of the Collections and Research Building in Colwood and requests further analysis related to the downtown museum. The preliminary business case will be available online in June 2022.

horgan, jdf, constituency, office

* December 2021 – The business case is finalized by Infrastructure BC with input from the RBCM, the Ministry of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport, and the Transportation Investment Corporation (TI Corp.)

* March 2022 – Government approves the final business case for the downtown museum.

Political heat:

It’s worth noting that Minister Melanie Mark was flat-out on her own today, making this museum announcement. Premier John Horgan had mentioned in the last week or so that the capital project was coming, and without much other public information prior to that, the public reaction has been negative and intense — even from many of his own supporters.

“Sharing the business case and concept plan with the public reflects government’s commitment to transparency,” it was stated in a news release today.

The previous Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture was Lisa Beare. She is now the Minister of Citizens’ Services and Deputy House Leader.

The Colwood museum component (collections building) is under construction and scheduled to open in 2024. That’s the same year as the next BC Provincial election. That will give people an opportunity to see, feel and visit one aspect of the museum in that election year. Colwood is in MLA Mitzi Dean’s bailiwick of Esquimalt-Metchosin.

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Colwood Mayor Rob Martin had no comment today. His office notes that “there are no recent updates to share with respect to the Province’s plans for the Royal BC Museum facilities that will be located in Colwood”.

Jobs & tourism interest in the Colwood building:

The 3.2-hectare (8-acre) site in Colwood for the Collections and Research Building will include the 13,077 sq m facility, using mass timber construction and meeting CleanBC energy efficiency standards.

Building construction will generate more than 950 direct and indirect well-paid jobs, it was stated back in September 2020.

“This will be a valued institution in Colwood for generations to come,” said Colwood Mayor Rob Martin in 2020.

In a government statement on September 18, 2020 the region’s MLA, Mitzi Dean (Esquimalt-Metchosin), said the project “will bring jobs and increased economic activity to our communities and become an iconic landmark”.



Island Social Trends is a daily professional news service based in Langford, BC, covering news of the south Vancouver Island region, with an eye to BC and national news issues. We write through a socioeconomic lens.