2021 Year in review
As I think back on 2021, I’d like to say it was a year like no other. But, in so many ways it was a year just like 2020 as the world continued to cope with COVID-19 related impacts – socially, economically and individually. My well wishes go out to everyone who has suffered any kind of loss during these difficult times. It is my sincere hope that 2022 brings resolution and peace.
I am proud to say that despite the challenges the pandemic placed in our way we initiated and completed a tremendous amount of work in our ministry. I am so proud of the Infrastructure staff for maintaining their professionalism and continuing their good work.
Together, with our government partners and job creators we have made headway on hundreds of infrastructure projects. Building, renewing and maintaining public infrastructure for Albertans, and in the best interest of Albertans, has always been our focus. But never has this been more important than today. Because every infrastructure project we undertake counteracts pandemic-related challenges by boosting our economy and supporting well-paying much-needed jobs. Ultimately, this ensures Albertans have thriving communities – great places to work, study, play and call home.
Investing in the future
In June 2020, during the worldwide pandemic, global recession, and collapsing world oil prices, the government launched Alberta’s Recovery Plan to breathe new life into the economy and create new opportunities for every Albertan.
Two accomplishments of the ministry in 2021 align specifically with Alberta’s Recovery Plan to ensure that we are investing in the right provincial infrastructure well into the future. I am pleased with the Infrastructure team’s work supporting the development and passing of the new Infrastructure Accountability Act and as legislated in the act, the development and recent release of a 20-year strategic capital plan.
Together, the act and Building Forward: Alberta’s 20-Year Strategic Capital Plan raise the government’s bar for transparent, evidence-based decision-making to deliver on projects that provide Albertans with the infrastructure they need, and support jobs and the economy long into the future. Many thanks also to the thousands of people who provided input into the development of the act and the plan.
In 2021, we remained focused on furthering Alberta’s recovery by building the schools, health facilities, courthouses, and other public infrastructure needed to support jobs, build our communities, and improve the economy.
This year the Infrastructure team completed construction of 14 school projects creating more than 5,600 new and 5,900 modernized student spaces throughout the province. And, 57 more school projects are still underway – in planning, design or construction stage. These are supporting thousands of good-paying construction-related jobs in dozens of communities.
Looking at health facilities, Infrastructure completed construction of 6 health projects while continuing work on another 27. Of those we completed, I’m pleased to share that the Willow Square Continuing Care Centre in Fort McMurray welcomed its first residents to the new facility in June.
In spite of a major flood and pandemic-related challenges, we delivered the Willow Square Continuing Care Centre project on time and under budget. The $102 million facility supported more than 570 well-paid construction and construction-related jobs in the community and now is providing 108 beds with shelled space for 36 more beds to meet future needs.
This is the first project our team has completed that incorporates a geothermal exchange system into the building design. This allows the system to be fully electric and eliminates the use of fossil fuels on-site (except for emergency backup).
In early 2021, we completed phase 2 of the new Grande Prairie Regional Hospital which added a 28-bed mental health unit, 32 medical beds and 2 new operating suites to the main facility which was completed in 2020. The new hospital officially opened its doors for the first time to serve Grande Prairie and area residents in early December.
We’ve made incredible head-way on construction of the new Calgary Cancer Centre this year. In fact, on December 10, we celebrated the milestone of the facility being 90% complete. This is fantastic news. This achievement again demonstrates the work of our industry partners who have accomplished so much while also accommodating the changing business practices related to COVID-19 protocols.
While a lot of work still remains to be done, construction of the $1.4 billion project is scheduled to be completed next fall. It’s estimated that the Calgary Cancer Centre project has generated more than 7 million hours of work as of October 2021, and now there are about 900 workers on site daily.
In 2021, we were successfully moving a number of projects forward through various stages of planning, design or construction start. For example:
- Planning is underway for a new cyclotron and radiopharmacy facility at the Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary. When completed, the facility will manufacture radiopharmaceuticals that are used for the diagnostic assessment of oncology patients.
- Design is underway on the new Calgary Court of Appeal facility with approved funding over $100 million. This investment will help improve access to justice for Albertans and generate more than 570 construction and construction-related jobs.
- Construction began on the $130.5 million Bridgeland Riverside Continuing Care Centre in Calgary. With completion scheduled for late 2023, we estimate this project will generate about 730 well paid construction and construction-related jobs. Once operational, the new centre will help address a shortage of spaces for Calgarians requiring continuing and complex care as well as free up hospital beds for patients requiring active treatment.
- Construction to redevelop the Misericordia Community Hospital emergency department in Edmonton is well underway. This $85 million project continues to be on budget and schedule and is expected to be completed in 2023. About 60 construction workers from 10 sub-trades are on-site daily.
- Demolition of the Red Deer Michener Centre North began. The project is expected to be completed in 2022 and is supporting up to 100 jobs related to studies, abatement, demolition, site reclamation and security work.
- In Red Deer, the Alberta government stands by its commitment for the expansion and re-development of the Red Deer Regional Hospital. Infrastructure is finalizing the planning stage which is critical to ensuring the current and future needs of patients and the delivery of needed health services and programs are met.
Due to their sheer size and massive budgets, the majority of infrastructure projects take many years to complete. Here’s an update on projects I highlighted in my 2020 year end message:
The Legislature Annex building on the Legislature grounds in Edmonton
Demolition is underway and is expected to be complete in late spring 2022. The site will be turned into a green space for visitors to the Legislature grounds to enjoy. In addition, work continues on restoring elements of the Legislature Building. This year restoration of the front staircase was completed and sandstone repairs to the exterior walls and ornamental features will continue throughout 2022.
Gene Zwozdesky Centre at Norwood in Edmonton
The long-term care facility is making excellent progress and the first phase is on track for construction completion in 2023. Construction of the $379.1 million facility is supporting 450 to 500 people working on the project each day.
Agrivalue Processing Business Incubator facility in Leduc
Construction on the expansion of this multi-tenant facility started early this year and is anticipated to be completed in 2023. This $28 million project will generate more than150 well-paid construction and construction-related jobs. In the long term, more lease space will be available for Alberta companies to develop and improve their food products.
New Red Deer Justice Centre
Construction is well underway with completion expected in 2023. It is estimated this $207.1 million project will generate about 1,000 construction and construction-related jobs.
Throughout 2021, we also focused our efforts on taking care of existing government-owned facilities with much work completed or underway on Capital Maintenance and Renewal projects.
This work is critical for completing vital repairs such as replacing boilers, upgrading safety and security systems, and replacing leaking roofs and windows on government-owned facilities including courthouses, provincial buildings, housing and cultural facilities. These projects are supporting more than 1,750 jobs and is keeping our facilities in good working condition and employees and clients comfortable and safe.
A big priority for 2021 was to further our work with private partners and the federal government on ways to obtain alternate financing to provide Albertans with needed infrastructure.
In the fall, government announced it is saving Alberta taxpayers $114.5 million delivering five new Alberta high schools through a public-private partnership (P3). These are savings generated by using the P3 method compared to the cost if government built the schools using traditional procurement. This P3 project is providing 1,678 construction and construction-related jobs and ensuring about 7,000 Blackfalds, Edmonton, Langdon and Leduc high school students will have access to the state-of-the art school they need to learn and grow. Construction on one of 2 Edmonton schools has already started with the other 4 expected to begin by summer 2022. All 5 schools will be completed in 2024.
Also throughout the year, we continued to announce funding approvals through the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP) for projects in communities around Alberta. Through ICIP, Alberta has been allocated $3.66 billion by the federal government to invest in infrastructure projects that strengthen the economy and build resilient communities.
In 2021, the federal government included the option for provinces to use ICIP funding on projects that could be begin quickly to help counter the economic and employment challenges brought on by COVID-19. While this wasn’t new money, it provided flexibility to use our remaining funding and offered a better cost-share opportunity with the federal government.
Approved Alberta projects included upgrades and improvements to government-owned facilities as well as roadways and trails, recreation facilities and broadband. Shovel-ready projects, like these have an immediate and significant impact on job creation and economic activity and which is particularly profound in small and rural communities where many of these projects are taking place.
To date, 192 individual or bundles of multiple projects have been approved for communities throughout Alberta. This represents $8.7 billion in funding with $3 billion from the Alberta government, $3.1 billion from the Government of Canada, and the rest of the funds coming from municipalities and other organizations. These ICIP projects are supporting about 49,000 jobs in Alberta communities.
It is impossible to deliver the number of projects that we do without having best practices in place. This includes our work supporting Albertans and vendors by enhancing accountability and good performance, and ensuring best value on our capital projects through our Vendor Performance Management Program. The program has reached an impressive 139 vendors working on 326 contracts totalling more than $1 billion since it was launched in June 2021.
Best practices also means taking care of government-owned facilities and land in a manner that is in the best interest of taxpayers. For example, Infrastructure saved $118 million by relocating staff to redeveloped spaces in 2 government-owned facilities rather than building a new facility or keeping unnecessary leased-space. This included modernizing office space in Commerce Place and moving the Alberta Emergency Management Agency Provincial Operations Centre to renewed space in the Muriel Stanley Venne Provincial Centre. The savings can be re-directed to other government programs and services that benefit all Albertans.
We also introduced a re-designed realty website in fall 2021, which allows users to easily view all Government of Alberta properties listed for sale or lease. By offering Albertans access to this information and the opportunity to redevelop or repurpose surplus buildings and land, the government is able to support jobs, economic growth and increase revenue.
We’ve got this!
Last summer I logged more than 7,700 kilometres visiting Albertans in all corners of the province. This was definitely a highlight of the year for me. I really enjoyed the opportunity to see you all hard at work doing your part to contribute to the province that, in my opinion, is the best place in Canada to be.
I look forward to 2022 with all its potential ups and downs. Because, together I know that our best days still lie ahead.
Prasad Panda served as the Minister of Infrastructure from April 30, 2019 to June 21, 2022.