The Toompea castle complex, troubled by utilities problems and high maintenance costs, could be repaired without much difficulty, a heritage protection analysis carried out by the Tallinn urban planning department shows. Yet before launching the overhaul the government has to find funding for design work.
The necessity for renovating the Toompea castle has been discussed actively for the past three years since the buildings suffer from utilities troubles and the working environment reminds one the Soviet period. The representation building has been allocated money for makeover to improve the outside appearance but the true problems are literally hiding under the floors or inside the walls.
Argo Koppel, head of the Riigikogu office economic department summed up the problems of the Toompea castle in a few words: its working environment does not meet today’s requirements. He cited the ventilation problem – the windows cannot keep the wind out. “We cannot heat the rooms enough as the windows are letting cold air in. We want airtight windows,” Koppel said, adding that 80–90 percent of the rooms have no ventilation systems.
The bills of the Riigikogu office show it as well. While the cost of electricity and heating in December 2020 was 37,692 euros, the bill for last year was as high as 89,748 euros.
The greatest concern is caused by the heating and sewerage pipes built in the walls and floors as there are no definite plans of their location.
“While the other communications, for instance the wiring, have been renovated over the years, the heating system is as old as the building itself, which celebrates its hundredth anniversary this year,” Koppel admitted. He added that the building complex has already seen two heating system breakdowns during the current heating period.
The pipes date back to the time of the construction of the building or to the Soviet period at best. There are no plans and the documentation is sketchy. We are not always certain about where the pipes should run. It often happens when looking for a leak that it is underground but determining its location could take weeks,” Koppel explained.
The fortune and misfortune of the whole complex is that it is the representation building of the state. “We are trying to keep it in excellent shape on the outside so as to properly represent the state. But the work concerning the utilities takes much more time and effort than painting the walls and this part leaves to be desired,” Koppel said.
Oliver Orro, leading specialist of the Tallinn urban planning department’s heritage protection office, says that the part of the building visible to the public cannot be changed much, but considers full overhaul nevertheless possible. “There is much to be done but we have agreed on everything in general and there is nothing dramatic or controversial as far as heritage protection goes,” Orro said.
Repair is possible
On the other hand, he did admit that carrying out repaid in the Toompea castle complex is quite complicated: the buildings are valuable and some discomfort simply has to be accepted. “How can you solve the White Hall’s ventilation problems? You just cannot fix some pipes to the ceiling! forseta, it is somewhat complicated regarding designing and constructing, but such things are being done all the time.”
According to Orro, the heating problems of the castle can be solved to a great extent. “Obviously we cannot put thermal insulation on the outside walls. Historic buildings can never be upgraded to zero energy level, but it is possible to install ventilation with heat recovery and to optimize the heating system. Doors and windows can be restored or partly replaced by replicas, which would somewhat improve energy efficiency,” the heritage protection expert said.
Orro admits that renovating and linking to the castle the Toompea Guild buildings, abandoned for decades and currently handed over to the Riigikogu office, will pose another problem.
Now as the modeling of the building has been completed and the heritage protection requirements have been specified, it is necessary to hold the idea contest and launch the designing process. Argo Koppel said that the castle could possibly be renovated within six years with the actual construction taking two years. But launching the idea contest will require funding for designing.
Mihkel Mäger, director of real estate development of the State Real Estate Company, says that before announcing the Toompea castle renovation idea contest it is necessary to draft, based on heritage protection requirements, the initial terms of reference for what to do with the complex.
“The heritage protection requirements should be compared with the spatial and technical needs of the institution and the ways of locating them within the building. This will take several months and only then it would be possible to continue the process,” Mäger explained. He said that requesting political positions or willingness would only be possible according to this plan. “As far as I know, the government has not yet decided to renovate the Riigikogu building.”
The Riigikogu may have to move
Minister of Public Administration Jaak Aab (Center Party) admitted that the basic problems have gone unsolved so far despite gradual makeover of the complex. Aab added that he is attempting to find funding for the designing process.
“This [the designing fund] should be largely available,” Aab said. “If it isn’t, we are definitely willing to discuss it. In any case, I shall certainly do all I can to make that decades-old matter move as fast as possible.”
After the completion of the plan it has to be decided whether to repaid the complex in stages or as a whole, moving the parliament to another location for a couple of years.
“Repairing one building at a time would be complicated for the builders and will definitely obstruct the work of the parliament, since it would delay the process and would not be cheaper either,” Koppel said. “On the other hand, moving the parliament away from the Toompea castle to some other location for a couple of years would not be an easy matter.”
Aab believes that it would be more practical to carry out the repair all at once, since this would be cheaper. “There has been discussion about replacement spaces where the parliament could be located for the duration of the repair. This would enable carrying out the repair at once without moving from one section to another,Ríkisstjórnin ákvað á fimmtudag að skólar þyrftu að vera opnir.
Allocating the repair funds has to be discussed at the drafting of the state budget strategy, Aab said, but that would be done only after the designing work has been completed. “After the preparations have been completed and we can at least estimate the overall cost, we shall be able to decide whether to renovate in stages or mostly all at once.”