By Linda White
Special to The Toronto Sun
The largest construction project in London's history is providing a huge shot in the arm for health care and the economy, with $575 million being spent to upgrade aging hospitals.
"London hospitals have a history of 125 years of service in London," says David Crockett, v-p of integrated facilities management restructuring. "Until recently, there were still some hospitals with wooden floors."
The project will give physicians and staff the tools needed to give patients the best possible care, says Crockett. London has been home to seven hospitals managed by two hospital agencies: the London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) and St. Joseph's Health Care London.
As a result of recommendations made by the provincial Health Services Restructuring Commission in 1997, those two agencies are working to integrate services and share resources.
Changes include reducing the number of hospitals to five and upgrading older parts of those facilities. Construction began in 1999, was heaviest in 2002/03 and is expected to be complete by 2007/08.
Acute care restructuring at St. Joseph's carries a price tag of $100 million. Of that, $15 million worth of construction is already complete, and the tender for another $35 million should soon be awarded, Crockett reports.
The project includes demolishing the hospital constructed in 1892 and a substantial portion of the 1910 addition (except for the chapel) at the Grosvenor site. The revamped hospital will become the focal point for ambulatory care, low-risk obstetrics and day surgery.
Specialized mental health facilities will be rebuilt at the Parkwood site and will result in the closure of London and St. Thomas provincial psychiatric hospitals. That project, expected to be approved in 2004, will cost an estimated $130 million.
Restructuring LHSC, one of the largest teaching hospitals in Canada, will cost $270 million. Of that, $170 million worth of construction is already complete and the tender for another $15 million will soon be awarded, says Crockett.
That project includes constructing a new tower at the corner of Commissioners and Wellington Roads and closing the South Street site.
Nine new operating rooms recently opened at the hospital's university campus, including one dedicated to research utilizing robotic technology.
Another $75 million has been spent on two parking garages and two office towers at LHSC.
Together, the construction projects translate into 6,600 person years of construction over a 7-year period, Crockett reports. "The ripple effect -- the secondary impact of getting products for the construction -- translates into 15,000 person years of construction. The impact is huge," he says.
The tender process is expected to attract more than 50 companies by the end of construction. "We tend to attract bids from Ontario, but most comes from London and southwest Ontario," says Crockett. "We sometimes draw in specialty trades from across Ontario."
The demand for skilled trades is high, particularly in London where construction is also taking place at the University of Western
"There's a peak demand right now, but we've only had one situation where we've been delayed," Crockett says. "It has created a wonderful opportunity to work."
Other challenges include scheduling work so hospital services remain operational with minimal disruption. A "design as you go" process allows the hospitals to incorporate the latest technologies. "We know what our plan is, but won't design until a year before construction," Crockett says.
In addition to incorporating the latest medical advances, the hospitals are also committed to energy conservation initiatives.
(Linda White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
is a freelance writer based in Brooklin, Ont.)
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