A newly-elected Kitimat-Stikine regional district director is adding his support for the maximum use of local labour and businesses on the new Mills Memorial Hospital project.
Bruce Bidgood, the director for the rural area surrounding Terrace and reaching south toward Kitimat, says the project, estimated to cost in the neighbourhood of $400 million, has the potential to provide huge benefits to local workers and businesses.
“This can be spectacular,” says Bidgood of the prospect for local employment and contracts for local businesses.
“We have businesses here, very good businesses who can benefit. The impacts will be huge and felt across every sector.”
Bidgood’s comments come as the Northern Health Authority is in the final stages of preparing its business plan for the project which will then be submitted to the provincial government for approval.
Once approved, a request for proposals will be issued to select a prime general contractor, a process that could take a year or more and then lead to a construction schedule of up to three years.
Mills now has 32 beds and 10 more in its regional psychiatric facility located on the lower level of the current facility.
The province, in announcing that a new Mills will be built earlier this year, indicated the new facility will have close to double the existing 42 beds and add high level services such as a regional trauma care unit to serve critically-ill or injured patients who now are flown south for treatment.
Bidgood joins Skeena BC Liberal MLA Ellis Ross who several weeks ago also says he’d be advocating on behalf of local labour and businesses.
The two differ on an aspect of the project — the status of workers to be hired.
That’s because the province this year rolled out its Community Benefits Agreement program which calls for large-scale public sector construction projects to use workers who are members of 19 trades unions making up the B.C. Building Trades Council.
Under the agreement, companies who have contracts to build large-scale public sector projects are to hire members of those unions through a newly-formed provincial crown corporation. Workers who aren’t already union members will have to sign up within 30 days of being hired.
There is an emphasis on local hire and employment of women and Indigenous people as well as training.
Ross is worried that should the program be extended to the Mills Memorial project, the union-hire provision might exclude or hamper local residents who aren’t union members.
That’s less of a concern for Bidgood noting that trades union members come with skills training and certifications.
“I’d think you’d want plumbers who are certified as to the standards you want, electricians who are certified,” he says.
And Bidgood’s also confident the local hiring provisions within the Community Benefits Agreement will provide residents here with employment and training opportunities.
The new Mills is to be built between the current hospital and the Sande Overpass on land already owned by the Northern Health Authority. When finished, the current building will be demolished to make room for parking.
Although an exact construction footprint has yet to be released, the 20-bed Seven Sisters longer term stay adult psychiatric care facility sits between the current hospital and the Sande Overpass.
“My intuition and my interpretation is that this facility will be an integral part of the new hospital,” says Bidgood. “It’s a vital service to this region.”
“But it will have to be moved, taken down, relocated. My intuition is that the new hospital can’t be built around it,” he added.
Bidgood did note that the Seven Sisters building is just 13 years old, finished in 2005 at a cost of $2.5 million.
“Yet who could have foreseen, all those years ago, that a brand new hospital would be built right there,” he says.
It’s also understood Northern Health will not introduce paid parking as part of its operations plan when the new Mills opens up.
As a Kitimat-Stikine regional district director, Bidgood will also become a director on the Northwest Regional Hospital District board which takes in the area from Haida Gwaii east toward Houston.
That board this year negotiated a cap on the amount of money it will have to raise through property taxes as its contribution to pay for the new hospital.
“I give huge credit to the board for this,” says Bidgood of the $113.7 million cap. “There was really no way this region could pay more.”
And in his capacity on the Northwest Regional Hospital District board, Bidgood will also sit on the Northern Health Authority’s newly-formed Mills Memorial planning advisory committee which will provide advice and recommendations as the project moves along.
The same two appointments will also apply to Jeff Hammond who is the newly-elected regional district director for Thornhill.
Terrace mayor Carol Leclerc is the city’s appointee on the Mills advisory committee but that may change early next year when city council fleshes out its list of assignments for 2019.