Sweeping redevelopment plans for Halifax Infirmary on hold as bid deadline passes

A rendering of the redevelopped Halifax Infirmary on a sign outside the hospital's Summer Street entrance. (Michael Gorman/CBC - image credit)
A rendering of the redevelopped Halifax Infirmary on a sign outside the hospital's Summer Street entrance. (Michael Gorman/CBC - image credit)

There is an indefinite delay in the tender process for the redevelopment of the Halifax Infirmary.

The deadline for a financial submission from the lone bidder was Thursday, but Premier Tim Houston told reporters that Plenary PCL will not meet that deadline.

He could not say when a submission might come, or how long the delay will be.

"It's going to take some time," Houston said Thursday.

"The department will work with the proponent to understand."

Officials with Plenary PCL did not respond to requests for comment. CBC News has previously reported that the consortium may need the province to provide an indemnity to help cover project risk because its size makes it difficult to secure sufficient insurance coverage.

CBC
CBC

The Halifax Infirmary redevelopment is the largest component of the QEII redevelopment project. That work has also included upgrades and expansions at the Dartmouth General Hospital and Hants Community Hospital in Windsor, along with construction of a new outpatient clinic in Bayers Lake that remains on budget and on schedule.

The Halifax Infirmary project is a different story.

The Tories delayed moving ahead with the project when they came to power last year in order to review the work that was done to that point. Despite internal documents showing that population projections used for the design are now outdated and recommendations to expand the project scope, ultimately the government decided to stick with the original design.

The cost of that design is sure to skyrocket due to current economic condition.

Although government officials have only acknowledged that the work will cost more than first expected, CBC has previously reported that challenges related to inflation, labour shortages and material costs could drive the price tag beyond $3 billion.

Opposition leaders concerned

Houston said his government is committed to seeing the current process with Plenary PCL through.

"We're constantly running different scenarios. There are a number of needs in health care, not the least of which is beds and operating rooms. Those are two significant needs. The proposed project would address some of those needs, for sure, but we're always considering other options and I would never leave Nova Scotians in the situation where there's just nowhere to turn."

Liberal Leader Zach Churchill, who was part of the former government that first announced the project, said further delays would impact health care across the province because people travel from all parts of Nova Scotia to the infirmary for care.

Jeorge Sadi/CBC
Jeorge Sadi/CBC

"If that infrastructure is not updated there will continue to be problems across the province when it comes to emergency care," he told reporters.

The project is "absolutely necessary" for the system to remain viable and meet the needs of the public, said Churchill. He said the government should revisit an earlier proposal that would have seen two bidders — Plenary and EllisDon Infrastructure Healthcare — do the project as a joint venture. Houston rejected that proposal because he said he wanted multiple bids on the work.

EllisDon eventually dropped out of the process due to growing concerns about the project's cost and labour availability.

"I think we have to consider every option at this point to save that project and to make sure that long term we've got viable health-care infrastructure that's going to be able to deliver health care for people," said Churchill.

NDP Leader Claudia Chender said the Halifax Infirmary is an aging facility that needs to be overhauled.

"We need that hospital to meet the needs of our health-care system. It doesn't right now and I think people in Nova Scotia are nervous right now that this project may not go ahead."

CBC
CBC

Chender said the government should revisit the decision to do the redevelopment as a public-private partnership, or P3 model. Everyone acknowledges the project is going to be expensive, she said, but it's one the province needs to have happen.

"Government spending is all about choices. This choice would be right at the top of the list for me."

Even if the project does eventually go ahead, Nova Scotia Health interim CEO Karen Oldfield recently told reporters that it might not be enough to meet the future health-care needs of the province. Oldfield said the Victoria General Hospital, the building that's supposed to be replaced when the new infrastructure projects are complete, might need improvements to remain viable in the meantime.

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