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PCL Construction begins site preparation for $900M Sask. hospital tower

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Construction is officially underway on the anticipated new acute care tower at Prince Albert’s Victoria Hospital.

In February, the province awarded PCL Construction with the $898 million contract to build the tower. Less than a year ago — in July 2023 — the province had committed $300 million for it.

The expansion is expected to increase the hospital’s capacity by approximately 40 per cent, from 173 to 242 beds, with room within the overall facility to expand up to an additional 40 beds, the Ministry of Health said in a news release.

In a news release on Friday, the provincial government said a new staff and visitor parking lot was completed earlier this spring to make way for the structure to be built in the former parking area.

On Monday, site preparation for the multi-year construction project began in earnest.

“Developed by PCL Construction, the design includes a heliport on the roof, expanded emergency department, larger operating rooms and day surgery, pediatrics, maternity, enhanced medical imaging including northern Saskatchewan's first MRI, lab services, a new adult mental health unit, and intensive care unit. The recently expanded Malhotra Neonatal Intensive Care Unit will also be incorporated into the new space,” the province said.

The province says the Boreal Healthcare Foundation and the City of Prince Albert have also contributed to the project.

Access to the north public entrance and parking lot will be closed during construction, the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) said. SHA encourages everyone to follow the temporary signage posted around the hospital grounds while the work takes place.

“All patients and visitors must use the south visitor parking lot and enter through the current south-facing main entrance of the hospital. Additional parking on the south side of the hospital has been increased, including additional accessible parking stalls,” SHA said in a news release Monday.

According to the health authority, access to the emergency department, all entrances on the south side of the hospital, and access to Herb Bassett Home remain unchanged.

The project, which is expected to be completed by 2028, has raised questions about the high cost raising a building.

The announcement was shared widely on social media, with some wondering how the bid ended up coming in at close to $1 billion, nearly three times what the province committed in 2023, while the Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital was completed in 2019 with a final price tag of $286 million.

SaskBuilds, the Crown corporation responsible for procuring the contract, cited Statistics Canada data showing the cost of non-residential construction in Saskatchewan has risen over 41 per cent since 2017.

Since 2020, the cost of concrete has increased by 30 per cent, and the cost of steel has increased over 80 per cent, SaskBuilds said.

A construction management expert who spoke with CTV News acknowledged that market prices have increased in that time, but he doubted that inflation could account for a tripling in price over the course of a year.

“If it is true in July it was $300 million and now it's almost $900 [million], there is something major that's taking place and it's not the market,” University of Toronto construction management expert Tamer El-Diraby said.

“My suspicion is the project has increased in scope,” he said.

A change in scope would occur if there were features added later in the process to add complexity to the build.

But, SaskBuilds maintained there were “no changes in key outcomes since conception of the project.”

It said the government hired an independent cost consultant to assess PCL’s bid and found the cost was “reasonable and appropriate.”

“By way of comparison, similar projects in British Columbia, Manitoba and Ontario have come in at costs ranging from $2,700 to $3,800 [per square foot]. The Prince Albert Victoria Hospital Project cost per square foot is an estimated $2,044,”

-With files from Rory MacLean

 

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