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$4.5 million steel hulk to be transformed into $29.5 million hospital

The Yukon government is asking developers to take a steel skeleton once slated to become Watson Lake’s multi-level health facility and turn it…

The Yukon government is asking developers to take a steel skeleton once slated to become Watson Lake’s multi-level health facility and turn it into a new hospital instead.

To date, untold millions have been spent on a botched upgrade project — and government officials hope a developer can salvage it for $25 million.

The original plan called for the multi-level health facility to be completed, and all hospital services to be moved temporarily into the facility while upgrades and renovations were made to the existing health centre.

Two years into the construction of the multi-level facility, officials explored the feasibility of upgrading the existing hospital. They determined the plan was “not cost effective.”

On top of the cost of building the multi-level facility, it would have cost an additional $7.7 million to carry out the relocation plan.

Forgoing the original cost of building the multi-level facility, it would have cost an additional $7.7 million to proceed with the original plan.

So, “it was decided to explore the feasibility of utilizing the (multi-level facility) for the new hospital instead of retrofitting the existing one, or constructing a completely new hospital,” states a government bid proposal.

To date, the government has spent $3 million on the empty shell of the multi-level facility, said Yukon Premier and Watson Lake MLA Dennis Fentie in an interview with CBC radio last week.

But that’s substantially less than the figure given by Health Minister Brad Cathers five months ago.

“Actual expenditure for construction to date is $4,179,974,” Cathers said in the legislature on April 1.

Current budget figures and estimates from the Finance department peg the cost as high as $4.8 million. Neither estimate includes engineering or design costs.

The original proposal warned that even if the original facility were renovated as planned, “the existing hospital still was not optimal for delivering modern health-care services.”

The multi-level facility shell is not ideal either.

The government’s call for bids notes that the building lacks many of the structural requirements needed for a hospital.

The request for proposal lists 15 different inadequacies that a developer would have to address in implementing the hospital conversion.

“Elevator shafts have been built into the (facility) shell. These shafts may not be adequately sized or located to suit a new hospital floor plan,” writes the proposal.

The main floor of the facility is much higher than street level, presenting a significant problem for public and ambulance access.

“While ramps and grade work at the front of the building can resolve the issue, such a solution is not ideal,” says the proposal.

A developer would also have to address reports of visible mould growth on the interior walls of the structure.

“Does the (facility) layout, location of openings, columns and other structural components lend itself for conversion into a hospital floor plan?” asks the proposal.

Even if the project can be resolved at the estimated cost of $25 million — the final figure would be pushed higher by the furniture and equipment needed to outfit a hospital. Those costs have not yet been worked out.

As with the construction of a new school, the decision to implement a new hospital should have come after a careful assessment of existing infrastructure, said Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell.

“This shoot-from-the-hip premier seems to like this style of governance,” said Mitchell.

The Education department was contacted regarding basic information about the process of building a new school.

That question was referred to the cabinet office. It refused comment.

In 2004, Dawson City residents were promised a multi-level health facility triple the size of the existing nursing station.

Detailed plans were drafted for the new facility, but were ultimately abandoned in favour of the now-aborted facility in Watson Lake.

“It’s a hard pill to swallow — it’s hard to believe even,” said Steve Taylor, the Klondike’s Liberal candidate in 2006.

“You don’t know what to say or do — it seems we should have got it,” he said.

Health and Social Services communications director Pat Living was asked for hospital statistics. She did not return calls before press time.

Health spokesperson Michelle Boleen refused comment on the Watson Lake facility. She referred all questions to Fentie.

Fentie did not return calls before press time.

In an open letter to the territorial government, former Watson Lake MLA Don Taylor deplored the sorry state of basic Watson Lake infrastructure. The water system prevents the fire department from dealing with a major fire in the town and educational standards have degraded to an almost “unbelievable level,” wrote Taylor. (See his letter on page eight).