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'Accelerometer' will monitor twisting of B.C. legislature dome

The B.C. legislature’s dome will be outfitted with an “accelerometer” to figure out how much it is twisting and whether taxpayers need to spend millions in repairs.
The B.C. legislature building is decorated for the holidays.

The B.C. legislature’s dome will be outfitted with an “accelerometer” to figure out how much it is twisting and whether taxpayers need to spend millions in repairs.

Politicians on the legislature’s management committee voted Thursday to monitor the dome with the device for several months to see if it is moving, before deciding how much — if anything — to spend on stabilization.

“It may well be it has come to rest where it is and there may not be any additional movement,” said Speaker Linda Reid.

“We need to learn that before we decide on the next course of action. We’re measuring it first.”

MLAs were told two weeks ago that the green copper-plated dome was “twisting” and was one example of more than $5.7 million in critical upgrades needed to stabilize the 115-year-old capital building.

On Thursday, they said the concerns may have been slightly overstated.

“I was a bit disappointed today that the crisis we were told about two weeks ago is going to be managed by a measurement,” said NDP house leader John Horgan.

Still, that’s the appropriate and prudent thing to do because MLAs appear to have “got a bit ahead of ourselves” in debating the issue last month, Horgan said.

Instead of $5 million, MLAs are looking at putting aside $3 million in capital upgrades in next year’s legislature budget, which won’t be finalized until January, Horgan said.

Engineers last noticed the legislature’s dome had moved in a 2006 report. The accelerometer will tell engineers what additional movement is recorded over the next six months.

Engineers have also said the rest of the historic building is deteriorating rapidly and suffers from old brick walls that aren’t reinforced, a lack of sprinklers, overcrowding and obsolete systems for power, plumbing, lighting and communication.

The cost of repairing the building has varied widely in recent years, from as much as $70 million identified last month to more than $250 million in seismic work and long-term maintenance flagged by engineers in 2006.

More than 500 people work in and around the legislature when it is in session, and B.C.’s 85 MLAs debate bills and pass laws in the central chamber.

Politicians on the legislature management committee also debated Thursday whether to outfit every MLA with an iPad.

Some MLAs and cabinet ministers already have the tablet devices, paid for by ministries, caucus or constituency funds.

Legislature staff will now research how many MLAs still need the devices, before a final vote on whether to buy them.

Reid said iPads could reduce the amount of paper needed by MLAs to do their jobs, including bills, reports, committee documents and legislative agendas.

NDP MLAs said they generally support the purchase if it’s done fairly for all parties, because the tablets could provide instant access to the many legislative documents when the house is in session.