Scandal-plagued building opens

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Members of the Norwegian Parliament have now received new office- and meeting-room space, along with an expanded garage and post terminal, but at a very high price. Huge budget overruns and construction delays cost the politicians no small degree of voter confidence, but the new president of the Parliament hopes the damage can be repaired.

The still-new president of Norway’s Parliament, Tone Wilhelmsen Trøen, could finally show off new offices for MPs after taking over and wrapping up a scandal-plagued building project. PHOTO: Stortinget/Morten Brakestad

“We fortunately live in a country where we have a lot of confidence in one another, and also in the Parliament,” said Tone Wilhelmsen Trøen, who took over as president of the Parliament after her predecessor, Olemic Thommessen, was forced to resign over the building scandal. “Such large cost overruns can weaken that confidence, but I hope it’s not weakened over time and is something we can rebuild.”

She was finally able to present the now-mostly finished but still controversial project as some MPs could finally start moving into expanded quarters this week. It includes the total renovation of a building adjacent to the Parliament in downtown Oslo, Prinsens Gate 26, that only retained its facade and entry from 1881. The Christian Democrats will now be able to gather its Parliamentary delegation on one floor of the building, while MPs from Labour, the Conservatives and the Progress Party will also get new offices in the building.

The main staircase in the Prinsen Gate 26 building from 1881 was dismounted and rehabilitated before being set up again. PHOTO: Stortinget/Morten Braketstad

The project also included a new post- and delivery terminal under Wessels Plass, the plaza that lies between the Parliament building (Stortinget) and Prinsens Gate 26. That ended up involving a new tunnel connecting it and its garage to Rådhusgata a few blocks away. Wessels Plass itself, which also had to be torn up not long after an earlier refurbishing, needed to be re-landscaped as well. The area has also finally reopened to tram and bus traffic that had to be re-routed over the City Hall Plaza during the  past few years of construction.

The project initially was only supposed to involve some remodelling of the Prinsens Gate 26 building, at a cost of NOK 70 million. That ended up ballooning into the other projects, while costs skyrocketed to NOK 2.3 billion. That all cost Thommessen and the top administrator of the Parliament, Ida Børresen, their jobs.

Here’s how Prinsens Gate 26 looked before all the renovations began, and how it ultimately looks again, at least from the outside. PHOTO: Stortinget

“I think the entire Parliament is first and foremost glad that we can now finish this project, which has been extremely demanding for several years,” Trøen told news bureau NTB. “We now have a functional, newly restored building that is safe and secure.”

Asked whether she thinks the project was worth it, Trøen hesitated before saying it was “difficult” for her to answer. “It proved to be a very complicated building project,” she told NTB, that will now be “thoroughly evaluated.” She added that the Parliament has at the very least learned an important lesson, “that any similar project in the future will be organized very differently.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund