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This article was published 24/3/2014 (1127 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Workers Compensation Board has spent three years and $14 million to ensure its downtown office building looks precisely the same as it did before.
To heritage advocates, this is a victory.
More than 4,000 black granite slabs have been re-affixed to the WCB's 54-year-old headquarters on Broadway as part of an effort to solve a problem common to other stone-clad structures built in Winnipeg from the late 1950s to the early 1970s.
During this era, the architects who designed some of Winnipeg's best-known modernist buildings were not aware of the effect freeze-thaw cycles would have on stone cladding.
Over the course of decades, water and ice got behind the stones on the Winnipeg Art Gallery, Public Safety Building, convention centre and Centennial Concert Hall, cracking or rusting away the braces that hold the stones in place.
The art gallery and concert hall exteriors were repaired, while the $21.3-million tab for re-cladding the Public Safety Building led the Winnipeg Police Service to purchase and renovate the Canada Post building instead -- at a cost of $210 million.
The RBC Convention Centre Winnipeg, meanwhile, chose to replace its stone cladding with a lighter, cheaper metal alloy. That wasn't an option for the Workers Compensation Board building, whose black-granite facade is all but unique in Winnipeg.
"There were all sorts of really undesirable options for changing the exterior envelope," said George Anderson, the WCB's director of administration. "The thought of getting rid of the building just was not palatable."
The Crown corporation wound up enlisting a team of engineering consultants, architects and construction experts to figure out how to remove 4,044 black granite slabs, add a layer of new insulation, protect the building from the elements and then replace the granite -- all without altering the appearance of the exterior.
"The joke is, in the end it doesn't look like we did anything," said design architect Doug Corbett, a principal at Winnipeg firm Smith Carter. "We took that as a compliment."
Workers on the project succeeded in breaking only one of the 4,044 granite slabs. A replacement was found at the same Minnesota quarry that yielded the original stone, Corbett said.
The hardest part of the project may have been convincing the Crown corporation of the value of replacing the facade. When work started in early 2011, the Winnipeg Police Service was deciding to abandon its stone-clad building.
With the new police headquarters mired in cost overruns, the WCB's decision appears more prudent. The restoration of the Broadway structure has won a pair of heritage awards.
Other Winnipeg modernist buildings, however, remain a source of concern to the city's architectural community. Chief among them is the Public Safety Building, whose fate remains uncertain.
With the police set to move out this fall, the city has no choice but to repurpose the PSB as an administrative building -- and fix the troublesome facade -- or sell the building to a public institution, such as Red River College.
The city is hamstrung by a 19th-century caveat that requires the PSB land to serve a public purpose. The PSB's brutalist exterior, meanwhile, means it's something only an architecture buff could love.
"People either love it or hate it. It's a hot button," Corbett said. "It does have its merits, from a design standpoint."