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Canadian Super Hospital

The boom in the Canadian construction Industry is perhaps typified off by the construction of the new McGill University Health Centre in Montreal.

Billed as the largest construction project ever in Canada, the $3.6 billion (Canadian dollar) facility is being built on a 43-acre site that is close to the city centre and was previously used as a marshalling yard by Canadian Pacific Railway.

The project was first envisaged almost twenty years ago and pre-construction design started ten years later. Now, with the backing of a public-private partnership consortium that includes several international and Quebec-based firms, the project is finally underway.

Construction Well Underway…

The brownfield site required a one and a half year clean up after it was bought from the railway company. Excavation began in June 2010, with up to 1,000 truckloads a day removing material from the site in a seven day a week operation that ran from 6 a.m. until 11 p.m. This part of the project should complete some time in January, by which time foundation work will be well underway, including retention walls, piling and even some of the cement structure pour. By next summer, the whole campus should have been built with slabs up to nine storeys in place. Site webcam is available here.

The whole schedule is tightly integrated, with some of the construction and design taking place in parallel, and the hospital due to be open by 2014. At the peak of construction, around 2,500 workers will be on site.

The new hospital is on a self-contained site with surrounding green space in a dense urban location. Construction costs include $90 million for infrastructure work that will involve a new ramp to the city’s downtown expressway as well as pedestrian entrances via a tunnel from the transit station and an overhead walkway. The facility will combine several hospitals on one site and will include a cancer centre, research institute and university teaching for up to 6,000 students a year.

The three million square foot property is 770 metres long but is designed in such a way that pedestrian movement is kept to a minimum. The whole structure is curved and comprises five ‘pavilions’, each of which represents one of the hospitals or institutions that the new facility replaces. These separate buildings are linked by curved main corridors with glass atriums at the intersection between each one. The corridors also provide access to a mall that has cafes, gift shops and pharmacies.

The main building will be built to the LEED Silver standard of sustainability and will feature a two-storey underground parking garage. Also onsite will be a six-storey structure for staff parking, loading docks, emergency services and diagnostics. Twenty operating theatres will be available as well as 500 completely private patient rooms to help healing and prevent the spread of infection. Once the hospital is open, it will enable services to be offered that cannot be provided at the various separate sites.

Canadian Boom Follows Decades of Under-Investment…

The construction of the Montreal super hospital is part of a wider picture that has seen activity increase in the sector over the last few years. Much of this is due to a need to invest in the country’s infrastructure, which has seen decades of under-investment. Infrastructure spending averaged 1.6% per capita in the 1960s and 1970s but fell to 0.8% over the next 25 years. This has resulted in the collapse of an overpass, power outages and other incidents, which have served as a wake up call to the government.

A 2003 Civil Infrastructure Systems Technology Road Map estimated that 72% of the country’s civil infrastructure was over forty years old and the system had used around 79% of its life expectancy. As a result, $60 billion needed to be spent to put this right.

There is now an increased willingness to improve infrastructure to assist trade flows and opportunities, which is partly helped by public-private financing. Environmental issues are also forcing investment in ‘green’ infrastructure, such as wind power, water purification and light rail transit. The 2010 Winter Olympics has also been a driver for construction, including a $600 million upgrade to the Sea to the Sky Highway that links Vancouver to Whistler as well as other transportation links.

Construction is one of the largest industries in Canada, with over one million workers and employment rising by 39% over the five years to 2008. Ontario alone was forecasting a need for 74,000 new construction workers over the eight years to 2016 which creates jobs for Canadians and for migrants from the US and international construction markets.

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