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Volunteers behind National Holocaust Monument hope for snow clearing solution

The National Holocaust Monument is seen before the official opening ceremony in Ottawa, Wednesday, September 27, 2017. The team of volunteers who raised half the funds for the new National Holocaust Monument are hopeful a solution can be found to allow the site to remain open in winter, even if it's not possible this year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
November 02, 2017 - 12:36 PM

OTTAWA - Options are being explored to keep the National Holocaust Monument open once the snow falls after it emerged last week that the newly opened site would be closed for winter.

The subject was high on the agenda for a meeting Thursday between the monument's development council, the designers and the National Capital Commission.

The NCC has said that clearing the site of snow and ice risks damaging it, so like many national monuments, it has been slated to close later this fall and re-open in the spring.

At the meeting Thursday, the NCC also expressed concern that the design of the monument creates a risk that ice will build up on top of it and then fall, making finding the right maintenance solution essential.

"I honestly believe that everybody wants the right thing here and that if we can do this in a way without pointing fingers then we'll be able to achieve the best solution in the most efficient manner," said Rabbi Daniel Friedman, the chairman of the National Holocaust Monument development council, who attended the meeting.

The monument opened to the public in September. The concrete structure is composed of a series of rooms that when taken together form a six-pointed Star of David.

Given Ottawa's notoriously harsh winters, questions have been raised about why a monument specifically designed for visitors to walk through wasn't built or budgeted for with snow and ice in mind.

When word surfaced that the monument was to close, the Opposition Conservatives accused the Liberal government of penny-pinching, but Heritage Minister Melanie Joly threw the ball back in their court.

When the green light was given for the monument, the Conservatives were in power and said they'd contribute up to $4 million, provided the council could raise the same amount from the public.

The entire $8 million budget was eaten up by the original design, approved by a jury after a competition. The idea for a snow melting system or a partial roof that could address the challenges posed by Ottawa's climate didn't get discussed until later, Friedman said in an interview ahead of the meeting.

"By the time they asked us the question . . . it was already in construction mode," he said.

"The question addressed to us wasn't 'Would you like this design?' The question was, 'Can you come up with another $600,000 or not?' And we said we're hard pressed to be able to meet the budget the way you've given us at the moment."

While they couldn't find the funds then, finding a solution going forward is beyond the scope of the council's responsibility.

The council has technically ceased to exist now that the monument is open and the federal government is responsible for the site's maintenance.

Friedman said the option of a citizens' council that could assist was also discussed at the meeting Thursday, and while he'd thought it would require legislation, a memorandum of understanding is all that would be necessary and one is in the works.

"I would love to see somebody step up to make this a reality that is 24-7-365," he said.

But he remained unclear whether keeping the monument open this winter is a possibility or if it will require a longer-term plan.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2017
The Canadian Press

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