Institutional outlook

Health care and education projects come on line as planning takes on greater importance

When the energy boom hit Alberta and growth spiraled out of control, former premier Ralph Klein admitted that long-term planning wasn't exactly his forte.

It's evident, however, that Alberta's current premier wants planning to be a priority.

Under Premier Ed Stelmach, Albertans will see one-third of surpluses going to a savings-type vehicles. The remaining two-thirds will be earmarked for infrastructure projects. That includes maintaining existing structures.

Ken Gibson, executive director of the Alberta Construction Association (ACA), commends the approach.

"In a series of successive budgets, [the government] has invested an enormous amount of funds," he says. Compared to the rest of Canada, where the average investment sits at about $500 per person, Alberta invests four times that amount per person, he notes.

Another significant improvement in planning relates to ongoing discussions between the ACA, Consulting Engineers of Alberta, Alberta Association of Architects, Alberta Infrastructure and Transportation, and the Alberta Roadbuilders & Heavy Construction Association.

"[These] groups have begun a series of discussions about joint planning between industry and government," Gibson says. "I've got a four-year capital projects implementation plan put together by the City of Edmonton and the City of Calgary on what they predict as to what they'd like to see constructed over the next year by region and by category."

They have also laid out timeframes for how long each project will be in planning and design, how long in tendering, and when construction will begin and end.

Much work ahead

For Health and Wellness for just the two regions, there's more than $1.6 billion worth of work. For advanced education, there's $250 million for Calgary and more than $400 million for Edmonton over the next four years.

A number of factors are driving the construction boom in health care facilities: an aging population, an increase in population in high-growth areas such as Fort McMurray, and a desire to keep Alberta on the leading edge in research, technology, and world-class facilities.

The Alberta government reports funding for Health and Wellness is up $1.3 billion (12.2 per cent) for the 2007-08 budget year. Over the next three years, the Alberta government has slated $2.6 billion for health facilities, including $250 million to replace the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Grande Prairie, $221 million to cover cost escalation on health projects that have already been approved, and $26.4 million for the Northern Lights Health Region to build infrastructure for health care providers in the regions and new community health clinics. In addition, a helipad will be added at the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre.

Money will also go towards 30 previously approved projects. Those include construction of community health centres in Red Deer, Calgary, and Edmonton, as well as long-term care facilities in Red Deer, Edmonton, High Prairie, Vermilion, and Vegreville.

The new multi-use facilities will offer excellence in health care for patients and learning opportunities for post-secondary students.

For instance, the Edmonton Clinic, a partnership between Capital Health and University of Alberta, models itself after the Mayo Clinic-a one-stop shop that houses multiple clinics in one place.

Construction, expected to open in 2011 at a cost of $909 million, begins this year.

In Calgary, 2008 marks the first full year of work on the $1.25-billion South Health Campus. The campus will bring together wellness, health research and education on a 44-acre campus located at Deerfoot Trail and 196th Avenue SE.

The 160,000 sq.m health campus will consist of heath services, including surgery and operating rooms, pediatrics, obstetrics, mental heath, as well as emergency and outpatient services. It will also focus on wellness services and research and education. Phase I is scheduled to open in the spring of 2011.

ABCs and P3s

After much talk about using the public-private partnership (P3) approach for the design and construction of 18 kindergarten-to-Grade-9 schools, construction is expected to begin this year. The Alberta government reports that this is the largest primary-school project taken on in Canada.

The schools will all feature a standard core design that allows modular classrooms to manage growth.

Having received a favourable response to the request for qualifications stage, the government will move forward with the P3 school project. Tim Chamberlin, senior public affairs offices with Alberta Education, says the stage commonly called request for quotation (RFQ) allows industry to submit documentation outlining their qualifications to complete the project.

"There are a number of criteria [industry] has to meet to move onto the RFP [request for proposal] stage," he explains. "The RFQ [should demonstrate the applicants] are in a good position to handle all the elements of the project."

By the Nov. 29, 2007, deadline, the government received four submissions. After carefully reviewing RFQs, the government will announce the shortlist in January. The short-listed proponents will then be invited to participate in the request for proposal stage. The RFP deadline and selection process will happen in July 2008.

What the final price tag will be for the new schools is hard to predict. Just before Alberta Construction Magazine went to press in December, the Alberta government hiked its budget to $312 million for the new schools. The revelation came after questions from the Alberta Liberals in the legislature about why the budget had been hiked and why the government was considering amending the Fiscal Responsibility Act to consider long-term project costs as provincial debt.

What is known is that the government's investment for new school infrastructure, as well as modernization and maintenance, totals more than $600 million for the 2007-08 fiscal year. Also, Alberta's 2007-10 Capital Plan includes funding for 88 new or major modernization projects.

Chamberlin says the project groups for the P3 school project looked at successful and unsuccessful P3s and built "what we call a made-in-Alberta" approach.

Adds Chamberlin: "This new approach to building schools will involve the construction of more schools, more quickly, at a reduced cost to taxpayers because of the consolidated approach."

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