One mouldy oldie and two money pits plague Health

The Yukon Party government has delayed its election promise to re-open the Thomson Centre by April. They’ve found a new outbreak of mould in…

The Yukon Party government has delayed its election promise to re-open the Thomson Centre by April.

They’ve found a new outbreak of mould in the building.

The problem occurred after property management fixed the building’s roof.

The roof and building “envelope” was replaced by property management between 2002-2003.

Work was paid for on an hourly basis, and cost the government $1.46 million.

Sources have told the News tendering an hourly contract is slow, wasteful and “unheard of.”

During that roof work, water leaked into the building and “may have” caused the new mould that officials found during a winter inspection, said Health and Social Services Minister Brad Cathers on Monday.

 The mould outbreak has delayed the building’s re-opening, he said.

But Cathers isn’t blaming anyone for the delays.

And he isn’t shouldering blame for false starts and massive cost overruns on two other new Health facilities in Watson Lake and Dawson City, either.

Depending on which of the three you ask him about, he has a different culprit.

When it comes to the Thomson Centre, the problem was Tony Penikett’s NDP government, which governed from 1985 through 1992, he said.

 “Under the NDP at the time, it was not built to code,” said Cathers. “That led to structural deficiencies and problems with mould that occurred.

“They even ran off the building inspector at the time because they were deliberately not building it to code,” he said.

“What was created was a very pretty and well laid out building that was structurally deficient.”

What caused the most recent mould problem?

“Some of it was structural deficiencies, and some of it may have occurred during the upgrade to the roof through areas not being sealed properly,” said Cathers.

Pressed, he said it “isn’t fair” to suggest that property management created the latest problem.

Cathers can’t say when the Thomson Centre will open.

And he gave no cost estimates for removing the mould.

“I expect to be making an announcement within a month,” he said.

Property management has put out invitational tenders for mould experts, said Health spokesperson Pat Living on Wednesday.

Living could not provide a cost estimate.

The per-hour contract for the roof was used because property management “wasn’t really sure what they’d find when they went in there,” said Living.

“Rather than go for an overall bid, they went for a per-unit (hourly) price.”

In 2005-2006, the Whitehorse Hospital also spent $1 million on the Thompson Centre to upgrade its mechanical systems, she said.

The Thomson Centre was built in 1993 for $11.9 million.

The building has 48 beds and has been shuttered since 2002, when mould was discovered and patients were moved to Copper Ridge Place.

During the 2006 election campaign, the Yukon Party pledged to re-open the centre within six months.

Asked if that timeline was realistic or simply manufactured for votes, Cathers deferred to his officials.

“They had indicated last summer they were confident it was dealt with,” he said.

“That was announced as a target date for opening, not a statement that, ‘Yes, it will open at this date.’”

Over the winter he was advised that more mould had been found, he said.

But as people continue to wait for long-term beds at the centre, criticism is mounting.

“Every time you ask the government, they come up with two or three different reasons why,” said NDP health critic John Edzerza on Monday.

“If you say, ‘Six months,’ and you come back and say, ‘Well I said that, but…’. You can keep on coming back with the ‘but’ forever.

“Sooner or later, something has to be done with this facility. The place is probably turning mouldy from sitting there empty.”

That’s not the only problem Cathers is facing as Health minister.

The opposition is also critical of the continued bungling of multi-level care facilities in Watson Lake and Dawson.

Since the 2004-2005 Yukon Party budget, both care facilities have been on the books.

Each was estimated to cost $5.2 million. But neither is complete.

In fact, planning for Dawson’s new building is about to start, “not quite from scratch, but there is significant work necessary,” said Cathers.

Former Health and Social Services Minister Peter Jenkins is to blame, he said.

“There were some changes under my predecessor’s watch that expanded the building to about three times the size of the originally conceived budget,” said Cathers.

“This year, we’ll be engaging in discussions, through myself and the department and involving the MLA, to talk to the people of Dawson. They were not supportive of the design that came out last time.

“There were revisions made (last year). And we’re now going to be moving forward and working with them, laying out the plans and getting their input and their guidance before we go too far down a road again,” he said.

If all goes well, construction on Dawson may begin as early as next year, said Cathers.

Steel has already started going up at the Watson Lake care facility.

So have costs.

The building’s tab has inflated from an estimated $5.2 million to nearly $10 million, with $6.94 million set aside in the recent 2007-2008 budget alone.

Liberal leader Arthur Mitchell is beside himself.

Cathers can’t pass off responsibility to Jenkins on Dawson, and Watson has doubled in cost and will likely just keep on going up, he said.

“There’s one government, a continued government,” said Mitchell. “If each time you drop the ball you’re going to say, ‘Well, we’ve got a new minister, so everything that happened doesn’t count anymore,’ well, you can’t do that.

“It’s not as if Mr. Fentie had no idea what Mr. Jenkins was up to and was just horrified to find out that he’d been tinkering with the plans,” said Mitchell.

“It’s a failure of this government that that happened. If you put somebody in charge and that person completely screws it up … you’re responsible.”

Mitchell also has “extreme doubts” the Watson Lake care facility will be completed during this fiscal year for the estimated cost of a smidge under $10 million.

“I think it’s going to go beyond that. I think there’s all kinds of problems that we’ve yet to hear about,” he said, noting issues linking the old building to the new one have emerged that may cost “millions of dollars” to fix.

“This whole thing was poorly thought through,” said Mitchell. “They rushed forward with sole-source contracts on it for political reasons.”

And the problems appear to have cost Dawson a badly needed new health facility, he said.

 “There’s need in both places, but there doesn’t seem to be as strong an advocate in the one.”