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Winnipeg Free Press | 16Dec2011 | Nick Martin, Alexandra Paul

Museum may be delayed again
Might not open in 2014, gallery work remains stalled

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights may not open in 2014.

"It's a target. We'll be confirming the feasibility of that date in the next two to three months," Angela Cassie, the museum's director of communications and external relations, said Thursday night [15Dec2011].

The museum recently revealed its 2013 opening has been pushed back a year, but didn't say why.

Now, 2014 isn't carved in stone either.

"2014 is contingent... by March, we can confirm that date," Cassie said.

Cassie said the museum expects to have construction finished in 2012 as planned.

But, the museum does not want to issue contracts for inside work on its galleries until it has the money in hand to pay for the work and materials.

"There is consideration for ensuring we have financial security. We want to ensure we have the cash in hand," Cassie said. "It would be imprudent to start awarding contracts when we don't have the (money to) draw."

Cassie would not say how short the museum fundraisers are, nor would she estimate ballpark figures of how much more needs to be raised.

Cassie would not say if the museum is considering seeking a credit line, or asking governments for loan guarantees.

It has ruled out a partial opening before all galleries are completed, she said. "We don't believe opening it in stages is the best way," Cassie said.

"We're exploring all options. Right now, we're completely focused on 2014 -- I don't want to speculate."

The delay will give the museum more time to work with various communities on its exhibits, she pointed out.

And, the museum must decide, "When is the optimal time to open a museum? You have one opportunity to throw your doors open to the world."

Cassie said the museum needs to choose a specific month to open that would best align with school tours and conferences anxious to use museum facilities.

She acknowledged some groups have had to postpone such events scheduled for 2013.

"There had been some dates tentatively pencilled in for 2013" that are being rescheduled, she said.

Cassie pointed out there has to be a period in which the finished building is dust-free, before any work can begin inside. Then those galleries to be designed, installed, and tested, all before the doors open.

University of Winnipeg president Lloyd Axworthy said Thursday night he'd heard museum officials were thinking of pushing back the opening date.

At a luncheon Axworthy attended Thursday, the buzz around the table was about the museum not meeting its 2014 opening date.

"The talk was about a further date for the completion of the museum and that's what I heard," Axworthy said, stressing he's had no official word from the museum.

The university has a working partnership with the museum to share people and resources for academic research, so any delay could have an impact on staff and faculties.

"We have a bachelors of human rights program we started this year which we see as important and this (museum) gives them an outlet for delving into issues. If there is a delay, I can tell you, in this world... let's say not everything happens when it's supposed to," Axworthy said.

The 260,000-square-foot building was originally budgeted to cost $200 million. A $310-million price tag has held steady for the past couple of years.

The head of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, Colin Craig, said money problems at the museum shouldn't be an excuse to go back to Ottawa for additional aid, not with the cost overruns that have plagued the museum since the beginning.

The unique mandate of the museum aside, Ottawa's investment already includes $100 million in capital costs and $22 million in operating funds.

"We're not anti-museum," Craig said. " I think taxpayers have put in enough money for it. If people truly want a museum, there's nothing stopping them from reaching into their own pockets and deciding to cut a cheque."

It came as a surprise when museum officials told a recent public forum the opening date had been pushed back to 2014 from 2013. However, they did not offer an explanation.

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 16, 2011 A5

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