Infrastructure Ontario (IO) is banking on prefabricated building technology and a streamlined, custom-created procurement process to enable it and its partners to fulfill Premier Doug Ford’s pledge to build 1,280 units of long-term care (LTC) beds in three municipalities within the next 17 months.
IO president of project delivery Michael Lindsay said in an Aug. 8 interview that no corners will be cut as the agency and the projects’ proponents strive to procure, build and commission the new LTC facilities by the end of 2021.
Lindsay explained how IO will collaborate with Lakeridge Health to build a 320-bed facility in Ajax and with Trillium Health Partners to construct two LTC homes with a total of 640 beds in Mississauga, with the partners providing day-to-day construction oversight and monitoring commissioning. The agency has worked on major builds with both health care providers in the past and both have greenfield lands available on their hospital properties.
Premier Doug Ford added a third project to the roster, another 320-bed project to be undertaken in partnership with Humber River Hospital in north Toronto, on Aug. 11. Ford said the latest LTC project would also be targeted for completion by the end of 2021.
“The start of construction within the next month is the aspiration,” said Lindsay of the Ajax and Mississauga projects. “We are nearing the end of the prequalification process, then we are going to cut right to the competitive selection and negotiation. We hope to be starting the construction this fall.”
All that is subject to government approval, he said, adding, “We are quite optimistic.”
The government announced a new funding model to encourage more construction of LTC homes on July 15, and Ford announced the Accelerated Build Pilot Program July 21.
An increasing number of sectors have really managed to truncate delivery schedules associated with using some of these modular approaches,
— Michael Lindsay
Lindsay explained the procurement phase of the Accelerated Build program involves prequalifying firms with expertise in both modular and long-term care construction. Firms that meet the bar of having the capability to build quickly in the modular space, he said, are being prequalified to be on a vendor of record list for future rapid construction mandates for LTC or other projects, Lindsay said.
“The process we have started is all about doing the diligence on what capabilities are out there and ultimately on a competitive basis selecting the parties that can help us,” he said.
“This is definitely a new process but draws on our established norms. It is an open, competitive prequalification followed by a competitive process for the shortlist, then the contract award.”
Lindsay said the availability of surplus lands was a key element as IO began to consult on how to incent the creation of new LTC beds, a sector that has come under a microscope during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In that continuing policy discussion, we became more and more aware of what’s out there in respect of rapid construction,” Lindsay said.
“We and the government have been looking at the experience of university residences on the West Coast or retirement residences in St. Thomas, Ont. An increasing number of sectors have really managed to truncate delivery schedules associated with using some of these modular approaches so that led to a place where we were given a green light to go out and have conversations with industry about what innovative approaches are out there.”
IO believes the counterparties will be able to use an off-the-shelf design, saving time in that phase. As well, the provincial and local governments have committed to expediting zoning and site plan permitting and utilities work, and there is certainly political support for the project, Lindsay said.
“There will be compliance with all requirements,” he stressed, mentioning assessments from such regulatory bodies as fire marshals and conservation authorities.
Comparing typical projects, site selection might take six months and it might require a year for due diligence, approvals, concept design and procurement, he said. Then construction, commissioning, furniture fit-out and training could take three years before start of care is possible.
Instead, Lindsay foresees a “construction and commissioning cycle of a year.”
The success of the timetable presumes the guaranteed availability of skilled trades, he said, “who are going to be running construction 24/7,” with the full co-operation of the relevant authorities.
Other possible hitches could include a delay in the commissioning plan and dealing with the pandemic, which could affect supply chains and more. But the fact that the project is top priority for the government should minimize roadblocks, Lindsay said.
In future, Lindsay said he hopes the Accelerated Build program could be used for other asset classes such as housing, education and justice.
“There is an ever-increasing amount of examples of how these types of construction approaches can be suitable for building in those spaces.”
Follow the author on Twitter @DonWall_DCN.