Early ‘concerns’ over roof at hospital ‘well-founded’
Emails reveal province identified issues during design, construction
The provincial government flagged a potential problem with the roof of the $407-million Saskatchewan Hospital North Battleford two years before the roof failed last spring and needed to be completely replaced.
Documents obtained by the Saskatchewan NDP show Saskbuilds — the Crown corporation responsible for major infrastructure projects — identified concerns about the roof well before it sprang multiple leaks shortly after the facility’s grand opening in March 2019.
“With the spring thaw, some major issues with the roof at (the hospital) have come to the forefront,” Saskbuilds project director Jill Zimmer wrote in an email to colleagues on March 13, 2019, as reports of roof leaks in the facility began to come in.
“The roof was a serious bone of contention during design and construction, and unfortunately the authority’s concerns were well-founded,” Zimmer added in the email, which was included in a package of documents provided to reporters on Tuesday.
On the same day, Derek Miller, the Saskatchewan Health Authority’s executive director of infrastructure management, noted in an email that at least 20 leaks had been reported at the public-private partnership (P3) hospital, and one unit had to be evacuated as a result.
“We are fortunate this didn’t occur last week before the grand opening,” Miller wrote.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, NDP Leader Ryan Meili said “it’s really hard to understand” why the contractor went ahead with the roof without making changes after the provincial government made it clear there were concerns.
“Even if (the cost) was covered (by the contractor), it’s still a really big problem that they didn’t listen to the health authority and Saskbuilds on their concerns with the roof,” Meili said. “They just powered ahead with a roof they ended up replacing, which means sections of the facility not open, it means patients not being able to access that space.”
In a prepared statement, Saskbuilds Minister Gord Wyant said while “product integrity” is not the government’s responsibility, officials raised the question with APP, the consortium responsible for building the hospital, after the insulated panels in the exterior walls failed in 2017.
“APP indicated there was no issue with the roof, which was constructed at the same time but used different material. It was not until a spring melt in 2019 that the roof failure was identified through months of extensive testing that APP undertook,” Wyant said.
The government has previously committed to a “full facility audit,” which is expected to be complete in the spring, Wyant added.
APP did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday. A spokeswoman for the SHA referred a request for comment back to Saskbuilds.
The roof was the second major failure at the facility, which is designed for patients and offenders with mental health issues.
Earlier this week, the Starphoenix reported that the insulated panels used in the roof were manufactured by the same company whose products failed in the exterior walls in 2017, necessitating the replacement of the “entire building envelope.”
Meili called the decision to use the same company’s products “mind-bending.”
In a prepared statement issued Monday, hospital builder Access Prairies Partnership said two different products were used, and the roof was already installed when the panels in the exterior walls began to shrink, prompting their replacement.
The subsequent roof failure resulted in leaks in “approximately” 50 locations throughout the building, according to Saskbuilds documents obtained by the Starphoenix under the province’s freedom of information legislation.
The NDP’S documents provide more detail regarding the roof failure, describing “a significant leak” in the auditorium that caused “acoustic material to separate from the ceiling ” and “buckets collecting water in the auditorium.”
Testing of the roof subsequently revealed “progressive and pervasive shrinking of the SPF ‘modpanel’ insulation … resulting in failure of the sealant joints,” a senior government official wrote in an email to colleagues in May.
Meili said that could have created safety issues for staff and patients in the hospital, compounding the challenge created for staff trying to do stressful work in a facility that is not performing as intended.
“What these documents show is a government putting politics before people, bulldozing their way to a big ribbon-cutting with no concern for the well-being of patients or staff,” he added.
Both APP and the provincial government have said the P3 model means Saskatchewan taxpayers will not be on the hook for any of the replacement costs, which Saskbuilds’ CEO expects will run into the millions of dollars.
“We believe in building public infrastructure in the way that most makes sense. In the case of the (hospital), the P3 model has saved taxpayer dollars and protected taxpayers from risk and associated costs,” Wyant said in the statement.
The NDP takes issue with that assertion, arguing the government should be more forthcoming because the lack of transparency in its arrangement with APP makes it impossible for taxpayers to know if they’re getting a good deal.
While Meili wouldn’t explicitly rule out using P3 contracts if elected later this year because governments need to consider every option, he expressed a preference for traditional builds using local suppliers and contractors.
According to the government, the hospital project included 31 Saskatchewan-based companies with “almost” 20 per cent of construction hours completed by First Nations and Métis workers.
Construction of the hospital began in late 2015. It was schedule to be complete in June 2018 but the project was delayed by what the government described as “a subcontractor unable to deliver according to the overall schedule.”
The facility, which has 188 beds plus an additional 96 secure beds for offenders, officially opened in March 2019. It replaced the original Saskatchewan Hospital, which opened in 1914.
The total project budget includes $222 million for construction, plus $185 million for maintenance over 30 years.