By Rob Gowan, Sun Times, Owen Sounds
The CEO of Grey Bruce Health Services believes construction of a new hospital in Markdale can begin within two years.
Lance Thurston has been pleased with how the process has proceeded since the announcement in mid-September the province had given the multi-million-dollar build the green light and he is confident in his two-year timeline for construction to begin and four-year estimate for project completion.
“We are hoping to have shovel in the ground within two years. That is an optimistic estimate of time and to get that everything has to work like clockwork,” Thurston said Tuesday.
“Everything has to fall into place nicely to meet that timeline, but it is doable and that is what we are gunning for.”
In September, Ontario Health Minister Dr. Eric Hoskins was in Markdale to announce the province’s backing of the project, which is expected to cost between $50 million and $60 million.
The announcement was a long time coming as it had been 12 years since a fundraising campaign was launched to help GBHS build the new hospital in the town. A total of $12 million was raised in a couple of years.
In 2005 Grey County donated land for the facility at the south end of Markdale and a year later, the provincial Liberal government provided GBHS with a $3 million planning and design grant to begin the process to replace the aging Centre Grey Hospital.
Three years later the province said the project was a priority, but not much happened.
In the years since, some frustration has been expressed locally about the lack of movement, but local officials were not deterred and continued to lobby the province.
Since September’s announcement, Thurston said province officials have met with him and others involved in the project.
“The ministry staff contacted us within days of that announcement and said they would like to get together for a more in-depth discussion. That was arranged within two weeks,” said Thurston.
“Since then we have had another subsequent discussion with the ministry staff just checking in and making sure everything is moving along as it should be.”
Thurston said GBHS considers the project priority No. 1.
“We want to do everything we can to ensure success,” said Thurston. “We know the ministry is doing the same at its end, so hopefully that means ultimate success.”
The project the ministry has approved will be 40,000 square feet, at least 4,000 sq. ft. larger than the current facility. It is expected to include a 24/7 emergency department, four patient beds, procedures room, laboratory, diagnostic imaging, outpatient rehabilitation and ambulatory care service.
Thurston said a hospital that size is estimated to take about two years to build.
“We are looking at four years for people to occupy a new facility,” said Thurston. “If it can be sooner we will, but it is not likely to be sooner.”
The Markdale project is in Stage 2 of a five-stage planning process for constructionl.
Stage 2 is the functional program stage, where details about operating requirements will be worked out.
Thurston said GBHS has re-engaged its engineers and architects to develop the details in terms of square footage and building standards.
He expects a submission to be made to the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care in early to mid January at which there is expected to be some negotiations on what the facility will include.
Thurston said a lot of the phase 2 work had already been completed, but there have been some changes since the original submission to the province.
“We have to go back now and redo the numbers and it has been a long period of time,” said Thurston. “We have to bring everything up to date and there has been new standards for construction and various codes we have to meet.”
The next stage will be the development of the detailed engineering diagrams and plans.
Stage 4 is when requests for proposals are gathered from prospective developers, while in the fifth stage, a developer is selected and construction begins.
Thurston said GBHS intends to be open with stakeholders along the way, providing new information as it becomes available on a link on the GBHS website.
He has met with physicians, unions, staff and some of those who have been involved in the fundraising initiatives for the project over the years.
He plans to meet with the outgoing and incoming Grey Highlands councils in mid-November and a public meeting is being scheduled for Nov. 25 at 7 p.m. at Annesley United Church in Markdale.
“What we really want in this process is openness and communications and just being very transparent in the whole process,” said Thurston.