October 31, 2017 4:38 pm
Updated: October 31, 2017 4:39 pm

Work begins to convert Calgary’s Centennial Planetarium into cultural hub

Workers have erected scaffolding around the dome of the Centennial Planetarium as work begins on refurbishing the building.

John Himpe / News Talk 770

Construction crews have started work on a project to rehabilitate and restore the former Centennial Planetarium in Calgary to become a new multi-use cultural and arts space.

“It has been sitting vacant for a number of years and council saw fit to allocate funding for us to redevelop the building into a multi-use cultural hub,” said Thomas Hansen, director of facility management for the City of Calgary.

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City council had voted in favour of allocating $24 million to the rehabilitation project. A bidding process on the work encouraged engineers to find efficiencies and the total cost of the project is now pegged at $16.5 million. The money comes from dollars made available to the city by the province through its Cultural Municipal Sustainability Initiative.

READ MORE: Long-abandoned Queen Elizabeth II Planetarium getting second chance

“The building is listed on the City of Calgary municipal inventory as a historic resource, so they’ll be focusing on restoring and maintaining those historic elements that have been deemed to be important to retain, such as the dome and the brutalist architecture and so forth.”

The Centennial Planetarium opened in 1967 as part of Canada’s 100th-anniversary celebrations.  The building was an award-winning design and later served as home to the Calgary Science Centre for 27 years.

The planetarium was intended to be the new home of the Contemporary Calgary art gallery, but that group is now looking for a new home after they walked away from negotiations to secure the space in September.

READ MORE: Contemporary Calgary looking for new location as planetarium deal falls through

Hansen said while Calgarians will see work being done on the exterior of the building, considerable upgrades are required inside to bring the building up to 21st century standards. Mechanical and electrical systems are still from the 1960s, and work needs to be done to ensure the facility lives up to modern building codes. But not everything will have a modern look and feel to it.

“There are a number of finishes inside that are very representative of the time when the building was built,” Hansen said. “They’re going to be working on restoring those to their glory.”

Work on the planetarium is expected to be completed in either December 2018 or early 2019. Hansen said once it comes online, it will fill a need for multi-use cultural space in the city.

READ MORE: Calgary mayoral election candidates to debate arts and culture in public forum

“This project is designed to be flexible and used by any number of groups,” Hansen said. “I fully anticipate when this project’s completed, there’ll be a high demand by cultural arts groups to use this space.”

“When you have a building that is as unique and interesting and magnificent as this, this is an opportunity for the city to invest in the cultural sector that really does need more space.”

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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