St. Paul’s move could be costly delay: MLA

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Bob Mackin / Vancouver Courier
April 23, 2015

The proposed move of St. Paul’s Hospital to False Creek Flats by 2022 puts patients and taxpayers at risk, says Vancouver-West End NDP MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert.

On April 13, Providence Health Care made an about-face and announced a plan to build a $1.2 billion campus on 18.4 acres of Station Street land rather than upgrade the earthquake-prone 1081 Burrard St. complex.

“We could’ve made this hospital seismically safe and state-of-the-art years ago if the government had actually acted,” Chandra Herbert, who is also the NDP environment critic, told the Courier. “You’re rolling the dice here and hoping a major quake doesn’t happen. That, to me, is not good public policy.”

As for the project cost, Chandra Herbert said: “once you actually get into detailed work, that can go up.”

Providence had contemplated an $850 million, 10-year plan in 2013 after Premier Christy Clark’s June 2012 promise to renew the 1912-opened hospital at its current site.

Providence proposed an 11-storey ambulatory care building to replace the Comox Building by 2018 and renovations to the rest of the 6.7 acre campus in phases from 2018 to 2023.

“There is significant concern over the structural/seismic integrity of the buildings,” Providence’s 2013 concept plan warned. “The Providence building meets approximately 60-70 per cent of the current post-disaster standard but the Burrard building, which houses the Emergency Department, has little ability to withstand even a moderate earthquake.”

Consultant Ausenco Sandwell’s September 2012 report, obtained from Providence under Freedom of Information, pegged the cost of Burrard building seismic upgrades at $29.9 million to $31.2 million, not including costs for project financing, off-site utility upgrade or removal or remediation of hazardous materials. A December 2012 report by SSA Quantity Surveyors estimated the Providence towers seismic upgrade would cost $51.15 million to $64.4 million.

A September 2012 presentation by Ausenco Sandwell engineer John Sherstobitoff said the Burrard building plan would retain emergency on ground floor and maintain functionality during an upgrade, with local temporary relocation to minimize disruption. The long-term plan called for conversion of non-emergency space to office space.

The Providence towers would have continued as a 24-hour fully functional facility. The renewal plan called for significant renovation to most floors, with renovations likely phased on a floor by floor basis. The less-expensive base isolation option was recommended for the seismic upgrades because work would have occurred at basement or parking levels and been less disruptive to continuing operations.

Since that 2013 report, however, real estate values have skyrocketed. In just two years, the assessed value of the land under St. Paul’s rose by $130 million to $465 million.

David Taylor of Colliers International speculated on the blog that “current zoning would appear to support a residential/mixed use development up to 1.75 million square feet.”