N.S. signs $254M deal for construction prep work at Halifax Infirmary site

·3 min read
Interal Services Minister Colton LeBlanc (left) and Dr. Alex Mitchell, a vice-president with Nova Scotia Health, speak to reporters on Friday. (Michael Gorman/CBC - image credit)
Interal Services Minister Colton LeBlanc (left) and Dr. Alex Mitchell, a vice-president with Nova Scotia Health, speak to reporters on Friday. (Michael Gorman/CBC - image credit)

The Nova Scotia government will spend $254 million on work to prepare the site of the Halifax Infirmary for the first phase of a massive redevelopment project, work that will include demolishing the parking garage facing Robie Street.

Colton LeBlanc, the cabinet minister responsible for overseeing the project, told reporters at a news conference on Friday that the agreement with Plenary PCL Health would mean work at the site would begin soon.

The minister would not say what that price tag suggests about the overall cost of the redevelopment's first phase, which is expected to take five years and include construction of an acute-care tower that has 216 patient beds, 16 operating rooms, an intensive care unit and a new emergency department.

The cost of "not acting to address aging infrastructure" through the project would be greater "than the cost of investing in health-care infrastructure for Nova Scotians," he said.

LeBlanc said the advanced work PCL would do between now and February 2024 includes excavating and relocating mechanical and electrical utilities, as well as making changes to the current emergency department so patients can still use it during construction.

Dr. Alex Mitchell, the vice-president of critical infrastructure for Nova Scotia Health, said they're trying to ensure construction work such as blasting, hammering and digging does not interfere with patient services.

"This is our pre-eminent care location," he told reporters.

"We need to make sure it can continue to provide service regardless of what things we're doing on site."

Mitchell said there are precedents for this kind of project, and simulation work has already taken place to understand how construction work could affect health-care equipment and services at the Infirmary.

"It's an exercise that both the construction and planning teams are used to in a health-care environment and we'll just continue to orchestrate a solution that works for both construction progress and for patient care."

Mitchell said officials are exploring "a number of excellent options" for temporary parking to accommodate staff and the public when the Robie Street garage closes this summer.

A new parking garage with capacity for 800 to 1,000 cars will be built during the first phase of construction. But in the meantime, arrangements will be made offsite to accommodate the 525 drivers, on average, who park in the Robie Street garage every day. The temporary option is likely to include shuttle services, no matter the location, said Mitchell.

LeBlanc referred to Friday's news as "significant progress" and a "critical milestone," but Liberal MLA Kelly Regan didn't see it that way.

"There's a lot of details we don't have," she said.

Regan said she thinks the government should be able to provide the public with more information about the project at this point.

The Tories announced plans in December to change the redevelopment project, which was originally assembled by the former Liberal government, to account for increased population projections. The goal of the revised plan is to carry out the project in stages, rather than waiting for the entire redevelopment to be completed before opening.

LeBlanc said staff have received a draft value-for-money study that validates the process the government is using. He said the public will get to see that document after the final construction contract is signed in early 2024.

"It's giving us confidence that we're moving in the right direction."