2020 has been a year like no other in recent memory. This year Albertans have faced a collapse in global oil prices and a worldwide pandemic, both of which continue to effect the way we work, learn, socialize, and live our daily lives.
The Government of Alberta has faced these challenges head-on with measures to keep Albertans working while taking necessary steps to keep everyone at our worksites and in our buildings safe. The investments Alberta is making in Infrastructure will result in better programs and services for people across our province.
The COVID-19 virus has required the implementation of additional protocols on all construction projects. These include physical distancing between workers, limiting in-person meetings and interactions, and enhanced personal hygiene and job-site sanitation measures.
We have also stepped up safety measures at government buildings and facilities to protect the health of members of our public service and the Albertans who visit our spaces. Enhanced cleaning and sanitizing is underway at all buildings, with extra hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes available for staff to use throughout their workday. Staff at Infrastructure were responsible for sourcing hand sanitizer and wipes for every Infrastructure staff member at every location in the province. Capacities in common spaces like kitchens, washrooms, and elevators have been reduced. And government staff have been asked to work from home at points throughout the year to reduce the total number of people in our offices.
Keeping Albertans safe at our job sites, offices and facilities is part of the equation to help keep our province working during this critical time, but we have also taken unprecedented steps to ensure that there is work available for as many Albertans as possible.
Alberta’s Recovery Plan
Alberta Infrastructure is playing a vital role in Alberta’s Recovery Plan. This plan takes bold action to create jobs that get people back to work, build infrastructure and diversify our economy. This year, Alberta has seen its largest-ever investment in infrastructure. We're spending more than $10 billion on projects across the province, creating tens of thousands of jobs.
As part of Alberta’s Recovery Plan, Infrastructure is spearheading accelerating capital maintenance and renewal (CMR) projects that are generating more than 5,000 jobs. Government has allocated almost $2 billion in 2020 for CMR projects to ensure government-owned and operated facilities are in good conditions to serve all Albertans.
These CMR projects span the province employing skilled tradespeople, labourers and trades-related service providers to replace boiler units, make structural repairs, upgrade elevator systems, and restore windows and stairs among numerous other projects.
While responding to the pandemic and keeping Albertans working was a focus this year, the day-to-day business at Alberta Infrastructure could not be set aside. Ministry staff continue to manage numerous major, multi-year construction projects across the province.
In Calgary the $1.41 billion Calgary Cancer Centre hit a milestone in April when the project celebrated “topping-off”, which signified the last concrete pour for the top of the building. And in September we reached “peak workforce” for the project, with approximately 1,500 people working full-time on site. It’s expected the Calgary Cancer Centre will open for the public in 2023.
Construction of a new Kananaskis Emergency Services Centre was completed and the facility began operations in spring 2020. The facility is an emergency response station located in the Kananaskis Improvement District. The project scope included the construction of a new 3,000 square metre multi-services facility, which now provides a full range of fire services in Kananaskis Country. The new facility replaces the existing building built in 1985, which was functionally inadequate and did not meet updated National Fire Safety Standards.
Construction of the Grande Prairie Regional Hospital was completed, and the facility was handed over to Alberta Health Services (AHS) on July 1, 2020. Once operational, the 63,272 m2 hospital will have 240 patient beds and provide a wide range of health-care services, including surgery, cancer care and emergency services. The hospital will have a state-of-the-art cancer centre that will include 2 new radiation treatment areas and a health-care training facility in partnership with Grande Prairie Regional College. At the peak, there were over 400 trades and construction workers onsite daily. AHS has started operational commissioning and it is anticipated that the hospital will be opened in the summer of 2021.
In Red Deer construction started in the fall of 2020 for the new courthouse in the city’s downtown, which is expected to be complete in spring 2023. The building will include 12 courtrooms plus an additional 4 shelled courtrooms that can be fit-out for future use. It is estimated this project will generate 750 construction and construction related jobs.
Work is also underway for an expansion of the multi-tenant Agrivalue Processing Business Incubator facility in Leduc. This facility provides the infrastructure and services to support the establishment and growth of new companies and new business ventures in Alberta. It enables resident companies to market their agriculture based products nationally and internationally. Design is complete and the construction contract has been awarded, with construction scheduled to begin in early 2021 with anticipated construction completion in late 2022. Expansion of the Agrivalue Processing Business Incubator is an integral part of the government’s economic recovery strategy to get Albertans back to work and this project will generate about 157 well-paid construction and construction related jobs.
The Medicine Hat Regional Hospital project included the demolition of an existing extended care wing; expansion and upgrades to the energy centre; addition of a new multi-level ambulatory care wing to the existing hospital. Renovations were carried out in multiple areas including the Emergency Department, Diagnostic Imaging, Health Information, and Clinical Engineering. Design work for the projects started in 2011 and after the final phase of construction, the facility was turned-over to AHS in late-July 2020.
In Edmonton work on the Gene Zwozdesky Centre at Norwood long-term care facility is moving forward with construction completion targeted for early 2024. This year saw the building envelope sealed and construction activity focus moved to the building’s interior with the installation of electrical and mechanical systems, and the installation of ceilings, floors, furnishings and partitions. To date more than 10,408 m3 of concrete has been poured; this could fill 4 Olympic size swimming pools or build a 1.2 m wide sidewalk around Edmonton’s Anthony Henday Drive ring road.
And across Alberta dozens of school projects underway are creating hundreds of jobs, related to planning, design, and construction, in local communities at a time when help is needed most.
Sixty-two school projects are underway throughout the province:
- 22 school projects were initiated in 2020 for the construction of new and modernized schools.
- Over 20 school projects were completed in 2020 which provided for approximately 6,000 new and 10,000 modernized student spaces.
Corporate strategies and services
Away from project planning and construction sites ministry staff have been busy this year working to refine the way we do business, accelerating our procurement process, cutting red tape, securing federal funding for critical infrastructure projects, and developing a new Infrastructure Act.
Our Vendor Performance Management Program (VPMP) launched early in January. All vendors who apply on Alberta Infrastructure consulting and construction opportunities, valued at $100,000 or more, are required to participate in this program. The VPMP allows us to better manage, track, and assess the performance of contracted vendors. Overall, the new program is enhancing accountability, supporting good performance, and resulting in better project outcomes for all Albertans and vendors. To date, the program has reached 107 vendors working on 158 contracts totalling more than $732 million.
Infrastructure’s procurement specialists have been expediting government procurements to support the ministry’s priorities, get boots on the ground at jobsites, and get Albertans back to work. Since April 1, 2020, 123 procurements were developed, posted, evaluated and executed for the ministry. Several ministry staff were involved in each and every one of these 123 procurements and their efforts are much appreciated.
2020 saw ongoing implementation of Project Delivery Standardization across the ministry to improve project delivery goals of on time, in scope, and on budget.
As part of this huge initiative, the Continuous Improvement and PM Information Systems Configuration teams have been implementing the ongoing evolution of the Project Financial Management Tool (PFMT) in the Capital Projects Delivery Division (CPDD) to ensure project milestones and financials are properly forecasted, tracked, and reported.
Thanks to all of the efforts by CPDD and these teams, more than 50 projects are utilizing the PFMT tool – and an enhanced version is ready to roll out early next year. 100% of in-progress projects in Infrastructures Health Facilities and Government Facilities branches have the expected key deliverables including charters, PFMT, and risk registers.
With business, especially government business, red tape can often be a burden. Cutting government red tape has been a priority for our government since day one, and Alberta Infrastructure has been a leader in these efforts. This will help ensure the efficient and cost-effective delivery of critical infrastructure projects. Infrastructure identified places we could reduce red tape in 138 regulatory requirements in our Acts and Regulations as part of our initial look at the problem, and we were the first ministry in Alberta to achieve a one-third reduction of red tape. Many of the changes have been what I would call common sense. For example, Infrastructure cut the red tape requirement for school boards to get approval on school board managed tenders, saving an estimated $43,100 in annual government costs and approximately 740 staff hours per year.
Infrastructure established a baseline count of 9,638 regulatory requirements during Phase 1 of Red Tape Reduction (RTR). Some highlights include:
- In our first year of RTR Infrastructure achieved the 5% reduction target for 2020
- We are on track to achieve the year 2 target of 7% (for a total of 12%) for 2021
- Thanks to Infrastructure’s Technical Services Branch for their hard work in helping us achieve a large part of these reductions.
In 2020 the Alberta government was pleased to endorse dozens of community-based infrastructure projects for federal approval for funding through the Investing In Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP). Through ICIP, Alberta has been allocated $3.65 billion by the federal government to invest in infrastructure projects that strengthen the economy and build resilient communities. To date, 76 infrastructure projects in more than 30 Alberta communities have been approved and the majority of ICIP funding has now been committed. These projects represent $8.6 billion in Total Project Costs, $2.9 billion in federal funding and will provide the province with over 48,000 jobs.
As Minister of Infrastructure I was able to visit many of these communities this year and I know that this funding will have an incredible impact in Alberta communities for years to come. Endorsed projects include community recreation centres, water and wastewater improvements, energy efficiency upgrades, Indigenous educational facility upgrades, and improved broadband connectivity. We are supporting Alberta’s Recovery Plan by endorsing and investing in these infrastructure projects, which are getting hundreds of people back to work in good jobs that make a big difference in local communities.
In our ongoing efforts to do business more efficiently and get the most value for Alberta’s infrastructure budget, we began work this year on a new Infrastructure Act which we plan to introduce in 2021. This new Act will outline how government will prioritize spending money on major modernizations and new builds and will provide transparency in the way capital infrastructure investments are made, helping Albertans better understand how and why government makes building decisions.
As part of the development of this act we reached out to Albertans to get their feedback on how their tax dollars are spent on public infrastructure projects. Throughout a 7-week period ending on August 10, government received 3,172 total survey responses and 56 written submissions from stakeholders and Albertans. The top sectors represented in the survey responses were community, schools, municipal, construction, and healthcare. We heard broad support for the Infrastructure Act across all sectors. The feedback received continues to highlight the benefits the Act will provide, with more accountability and transparency, less political bias, and better informed project proposals. Infrastructure is currently drafting the Act.
And internally, Corporate Strategies and Services staff members were deeply involved in ensuring our ministry was prepared to transition to our new, government-wide information management system 1GX. These staff members took on the critical role of leading Infrastructure’s application interface development work as part of 1GX implementation. All of Infrastructure’s major applications that were not able to be absorbed as part of 1GX required interfaces to be built into the 1GX system. It was an enormous effort to bridge the gap and ensure ongoing and meaningful communication and engagement took place between Service Alberta, the corporate 1GX team within Service Alberta and Infrastructure business users.
Once the financing is in place, vendors are secured, and the buildings are built Alberta Infrastructure still has plenty of work to do. We manage and maintain more than 1,800 government buildings and facilities, provide real estate, leasing, and land planning services, provide accommodation services, and manage properties like the Edmonton and Calgary Transportation and Utility Corridors and the Swan Hills Waste Treatment Centre on behalf of the government.
The COVID-19 pandemic may have had the greatest impact on this aspect of our daily business. Across Alberta our facility managers and staff worked tirelessly to follow the direction of Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health to ensure that our owned and leased buildings and facilities were safe. Thanks, in part, to this hard work government facilities have remained open throughout the year to continue the business of government and to serve the people of Alberta.
Some of our more public maintenance work this year has taken place at the Legislature grounds. For much of this year the Legislature Building has been covered in scaffolding and construction barriers as work is underway to repair and restore century old sandstone in order to preserve this historic resource for future generations of Albertans.
Just north of the Legislature Building stands the Legislature Annex. This fall I announced that this building would be demolished beginning this winter and Infrastructure would be exploring options to potentially redevelop the site. The Annex is an old building and has reached a point where continued occupancy poses significant risk without addressing major maintenance issues. While this news may have been upsetting to some, it is an example of the critical decisions we must make when managing government properties.
As part of our property management responsibilities, Alberta Infrastructure developed a new Non-Government User (NGU) Space Use Policy which replaces the ad-hoc way NGU spaces have been allocated in the past. The policy provides a consistent and transparent manner in which NGUs access space in government buildings and supports fiscal responsibility and stewardship of Alberta’s public finances and assets.
We also did a tremendous amount of work preparing to move the Swann Hills Waste Treatment Centre to a reduced operations model. The Centre currently costs the taxpayer approximately $30 million per year to operate, which is a burden our province can no longer bear. Under the reduced operations plan the Centre will treat only high concentration Polychlorinated Biphenyls (HCPCBs) and biomedical waste, reducing overall operating costs. Throughout the process of determining the future of operations at the Centre, staff at Alberta Infrastructure worked closely with their counterparts at Treasury Board and Finance, Justice and Solicitor General, Indigenous Relations, and Environment and Parks.
In order to be the best stewards possible of Alberta’s tax dollars we are investigating alternative financing approaches, including Public Private Partnerships (P3s) and Unsolicited Proposals (USPs), help fund projects and attract private investment to our province. These partnerships complement the traditional capital planning process and investment in priority infrastructure.
Alberta Infrastructure also recently released an updated P3 Framework and Guideline. The updated P3 framework increases our options as to what capital projects can be considered for P3 delivery including P3 variants such as Design-Build-Finance, and revenue-based P3s like Build-Operate-Transfer. We also released a new USP Framework and Guideline. This new framework provides the Alberta government with the ability to consider unsolicited infrastructure investment opportunities that previously were either missed or rejected because we didn’t have a mechanism in place to process them. This work signals to industry that our government is ready for business and that we are interested in partnering on new ideas.
Special congratulations goes out to our Properties team and the facility team at the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump Interpretive Centre in southern Alberta. This facility was awarded the 2020 The Outstanding Building of the Year in the Public Assembly category locally by BOMA Calgary and nationally by BOMA Canada. These are very prestigious honours, during the judging all facets of a building’s operations are thoroughly evaluated. Entries are judged on everything from community involvement to environmental and sustainability management.
These awards are confirmation of what I already know, Alberta Infrastructure’s property and facility management is among the best in the nation and I am very proud to see your hard work recognized.
These few highlights from the past year are only a small sample of the hard work and dedication that can be found at Alberta Infrastructure. What makes it all the more impressive to me is that we have continued to provide such a high level of service to Albertans while working remotely from home, or socially distanced at the office, or under increased health and safety rules at a job site.
While it’s impossible to predict what 2021 has in store for our province, I do know that the team at Alberta Infrastructure will meet the challenges that arise and continue to provide the best possible service for Alberta.
Prasad Panda served as the Minister of Infrastructure from April 30, 2019 to June 21, 2022.