An architectural rendering of what the newly re-imagined QEII could look like.

Finally, the province has released a massive amount of information from a consulting firm hired to draw up a Master Plan to replace the Victoria General Hospital. You can read what Kasian Architecture has recommended the proposed new facilities should look like and what services they will deliver here.

Some of the info is quite exciting — we’ll get to that in a minute. But first it should be noted the province received the report back in December. The Halifax Examiner filed a Freedom of Information request in January to see the contents of the $1.9 million report but we were denied on the basis it was “advice to government,” which could be protected for up to five years.

Yesterday, the McNeil government released a version of the December Kasian report (and subsequent reports) which were posted on the website which tracks the progress of the province’s biggest megaproject in decades. That’s a start.

However, according to Hunter Grant who works at The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy office, the reports from the consultant are incomplete because they have been scrubbed to delete some key information that the Examiner requested.

“The documents are not published in full as I have been advised that some info relating to the timelines and estimated costs have been redacted,” reads the email from Hunter Grant to this reporter.

Awwww. Too good to be true. We asked for timelines for the construction of  proposed buildings and a preliminary cost estimate of the work yet to be done; $350 million has been spent so far on planning and to expand the Dartmouth General and hospital in Windsor.

On October 4, Premier McNeil announced the government will choose a P3 partner to finance, build, and operate the cluster of new buildings for the next 30 years. Amid the controversy over the cost of contracting out rather than keeping the project in public hands, the job will cost “roughly $2 billion” McNeil revealed, noting he couldn’t be more specific until the design is finalized and the tenders come in.

So the design is not yet signed off despite close to a decade of discussion within government and a rotating cast of Health Ministers. It’s probable the work Kasian has done for the government may cost more than the $1.9 million contract award. (The Examiner has put in a request to the province to confirm the total payment to Kasian.)

Not only has the architecture firm provided the province with four additional reports since it met the government’s December deadline, Kasian noted in its final April report that much of the modelling it had done to create buildings that integrated cancer care with outpatient services was based on the assumption the Dickson Center would continue to provide cancer treatment. That changed late in the process. The just-released Kasian report states it was not until March 2018 that the government decided it wanted to move cancer care out of the Dickson Building.

That said, the two options Kasian has recommended to establish a stand-alone Cancer Care Centre on the Halifax Infirmary site both appear impressive.

“The Garden Pavilion” is one option the Master Plan proposes for the cluster of new buildings.

“Drawing inspiration from the Urban Garden at the corner of Robie Street and Bell Road, the Garden Pavilion explores the concept of integrating nature into the healing environment for Cancer Care,” says the description in the 264-page Kasian report from April.  A 2-storey radiation therapy treatment pavilion at grade level is proposed with a dedicated healing garden, maximizing opportunities for patients and staff to connect with nature. The design also maximizes access to natural light to all patient care areas. A 6-storey building connected to the garden pavilion will house all other cancer ambulatory (outpatient) clinics and associated administrative spaces.

The “Garden” Cancer Care Centre would be built on the site facing Robie Street where the Urban Garden is now. It would have a dedicated drop-off door for patients (a big improvement) and four levels of underground parking. The building would be flanked by a new nine-storey building next to the Infirmary that would include 600 patient rooms and 28 operating rooms (ORs) to replace those that will disappear when the VG gets demolished.

Many of the patient rooms will have views of the Citadel or the Common. The nine-storey building will be built where a parking garage is today; the master plan proposes taking the structure down and putting the parking underground. A bridge will connect the new Inpatient building with the Cancer Care Centre.

“Right now, some of our sickest patients are being transferred from one site to another for treatment,” said Dr. Drew Bethune, medical director of cancer care with Nova Scotia Health Authority. “Offering everything at one location means that will no longer be necessary. The new centre will also lead the way for innovation and research in cancer treatment.”

A two-storey Cancer Research Centre will be built on top of the Infirmary’s Emergency Department. The third leg of the Garden Pavilion concept is a 13-storey Ambulatory Care building proposed for the present CBC site overlooking the Common. This outpatient and diagnostic test facility is supposed to serve HRM while a similar facility to be built at Bayers Lake will accommodate people in the southern part of the province who want to avoid the drive into the city.

“The Beacon” is a second recommended option from Kasian. It includes an eight-storey Cancer Centre site on the present CBC location with three levels of underground parking.  (The report notes bedrock could be a “constraint.” A larger building that would have combined both the outpatient clinic with the Cancer Centre was rejected for being too massive and throwing potential shadow on the Common.)

The Beacon Cancer Centre would be located next to a nine-storey outpatient or Ambulatory Care building that would be built on the corner of Robie Street and Bell Road where the Urban Garden grows vegetables today. The Ambulatory Care building would include the Eye Clinic which operates out of the VG today, solar panels to maximize light and energy efficiency, and four levels of underground parking.

The province has said construction is supposed to begin on the Bayers Lake outpatient facility in summer of 2020 and at the Halifax Infirmary site in late 2020. If so, it seems unrealistic to believe these three new facilities could be ready in time for the demolition of the VG in 2022. Expect that timeline to move. But for now, with an election coming next  year, the government is sticking to that target.

Jennifer Henderson

Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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