An interview with Alberta's Infrastructure Minister Jack Hayden

Last March, Premier Ed Stelmach split the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transportation into two separate ministries, explaining that the split was necessary to focus on meeting the needs for roads and other public facilities as part of implementing Alberta's 20-year strategic capital plan. Stelmach named Jack Hayden, who had just been elected to his second term as MLA for Drumheller-Stettler, to Infrastructure Minister. In an interview with Alberta Construction Magazine, Hayden talks about his priorities and the challenges of meeting Alberta's infrastructure needs in today's economic storm.

LAST SPRING, ALBERTA TRANSPORTATION AND INFRASTRUCTURE WAS SPLIT INTO TWO ENTITIES. FROM YOUR PERSPECTIVE, HOW IS THAT WORKING OUT?

The separation of Infrastructure and Transportation into two distinct ministries has been a very positive step. It has allowed each department to renew its focus on what it does best, whether that is building roads or constructing high quality buildings across this province.

As minister of Infrastructure, my job is to help ensure the schools, hospitals, and other public infrastructure necessary to meet the needs of a growing province are constructed in a timely and cost-effective manner. Specifically, I have been mandated by Premier Stelmach to increase the efficiency of health and education infrastructure design and construction.

As a government, we not only want to provide Albertans with top-notch state-of-the-art facilities, but ensure they receive good value for their tax dollars. Having a ministry focused on vertical infrastructure plays an important role in meeting those objectives.

WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE THUS FAR?

Alberta has experienced phenomenal economic and population growth in recent years. With that growth has come an increased demand for programs, services, and facilities. The most pressing challenge for Alberta Infrastructure has been meeting the growing demand for new construction, maintenance, and facility upgrades in an economy where labour shortages and other market conditions have resulted in significant construction cost escalations.

A variety of strategies have been used to help offset these cost pressures including better coordination of tenders between the Alberta government and the cities of Edmonton and Calgary; bundling of groups of smaller projects into more cost effective packages, introducing cost-effective facility designs such as core schools, and using of public-private-partnerships (P3s) to provide cost certainty for large scale projects such as 18 schools being built in Edmonton and Calgary.

WHAT CAN WE EXPECT TO SEE IN TERMS OF SPENDING ON INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECTS BY THE ALBERTA GOVERNMENT IN 2009 AND BEYOND?

Although Alberta is not immune to the challenges facing the global economy, we are in a better position than most jurisdictions to weather any economic storm. We have a three-year capital plan that is updated every year and we will continue to move forward with an aggressive plan for building infrastructure in Alberta, including nearly $9 billion in planned spending for this fiscal year alone. We will continue to make every effort to ensure we are investing tax dollars wisely, focusing on projects with the highest need.

WE CAN'T RECALL SEEING SO MANY CONSTRUCTION BARRICADES UP THAN WE DID THIS PAST SUMMER. SHOULD WE EXPECT MORE OF THE SAME IN THE COMING YEAR?

After several years of phenomenal growth, Alberta's red-hot economy is beginning to moderate. This more modest rate of growth may ease some of the pressure on capacity and labour markets. The global economy is also under considerable pressure, which may create challenges for Alberta's construction industry. In conjunction with our industry partners, we continue to monitor developments in that area and to assess their potential impact on capital construction. It is important to note, however, that we continue to have very high levels of private and public capital investment in infrastructure.

CAN YOU GIVE US A BRIEF UPDATE OF THE P3 SCHOOLS PROJECT-WHERE DO THINGS STAND?

The Alberta government is on track to open 18 high-quality schools in Edmonton and Calgary by September 2010 through Phase One of the Alberta Schools Alternative Procurement P3 project. Following a competitive bid process, the contract was awarded in September to BBPP Alberta Schools Ltd., a consortium of companies led by Babcock and Brown Public Partnerships of the U.K. and including Graham Design Builders, Bird Design Build Ltd., Barr Ryder Architects & Interior Designers, and Honeywell Canada Ltd.

Not only will this innovative public private partnership save Alberta taxpayers $118 million and guarantee 30 years of maintenance, but it will create space for more than 12,000 students two years sooner than traditional construction approaches.

The P3 school project will showcase the Alberta government's new core school designs, which will improve the efficiency of construction and are intended to become the standard design for future facilities. The high-quality designs feature a permanent core building that includes all the essential elements of a school such as a gym, library, administrative offices, and space for music, art, and science. This core structure will be complemented by steel-framed modular classrooms that can be added or removed to allow school boards the flexibility to adjust to changing student enrolments.

In keeping with provincial guidelines, all schools within the P3 project will meet the LEED Silver environmental design standard. LEED Silver buildings reduce environmental impacts by using up to 45 per cent less energy and improving water use. Students and staff also benefit from a healthier environment resulting from improved air quality and use of natural light.

Following the success of Phase One, the Alberta government is moving forward with Phase Two of the [the Alberta Schools Alternative Procurement] program, which will result in 14 more schools constructed in six communities in Edmonton, Calgary, and surrounding areas by 2013.

IF YOU COULD LEAVE ALBERTA'S CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY WITH ONE MESSAGE FOR THE YEAR AHEAD, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

I look forward to continued collaboration with the construction industry because a thriving construction industry is essential for the government to successfully move forward with its plans to invest in Alberta's infrastructure.


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