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Solid construction season expected (4/02)

By Ian Ross If government ministries release money for a slew of pre-approved projects, Sault Ste. Marie contractors will have a solid slate of work for years to come, says the president of the Sault Ste. Marie Construction Association.

By Ian Ross

If government ministries release money for a slew of pre-approved projects, Sault Ste. Marie contractors will have a solid slate of work for years to come, says the president of the Sault Ste. Marie Construction Association.

With a number of upcoming projects valued at $72 million, either underway or slated for ground-breaking in 2002, building activity could be even better, if not for provincial government delays in some vital institutional work, Rick Thomas says. Thomas is excited about getting started this year on the $44-million, 370-long-term care bed facility at the future site of the new Sault Area Hospital on Great Northern Road. It is just the sort of tonic needed for his 130-member association of contractors, subcontractors and suppliers, he says.

“It’s a big job that will stretch out for a while,” Thomas says. “Instead of waiting for the final design drawings to come out early next year, we’re doing the foundations and pilings early.”

The construction of a new arena to replace the 50-year-old Memorial Gardens is another project on the books that Thomas is keeping an eye on.

The latest application for a proposed $21.4-million arena to the province’s SuperBuild fund calls for a $7-million contribution from the city and includes a $7-million commitment from the Soo Greyhounds hockey club and $7.4 million from the province.

But institutional projects such as the new $183-million Sault Area Hospital’s 326-bed proposal has no financial commitment from the province and no construction time frames are set, leaving the reality of a new hospital still years away.

Funding commitments for a $2-million youth detention centre are “still not in the bag,” says Thomas, adding he suspects interministerial problems and individual ministry policies on funding tend to drag out design and construction timelines.

“That’s one of the problems in this industry, each ministry’s different in that they all have their own internal processes.

“If it ever all starts to go, we’ve got four to five years of nice solid work ahead of us.”

Until funding comes through, Thomas says many members are finding many “hand-to-mouth” short-term renovation and small projects in the district, mentioning a new visitors centre at Lake Superior Provincial Park worth $3.5 million.

Anticipation at city hall is growing based on planned development of the Innovation Centre ($1.4 million), a new east-end sewage treatment plant ($20 million) and continuing additions to the city’s telecommunications sector pegged to create at least $300 million in construction over next five years.

Thomas shares their enthusiasm, especially the establishment of Multi-Channel Communications’ e-commerce centre as the first major tenant of a 20-acre Smart Park.

“It’s a really perfect job for the time to get things rolling,” he says, noting the spinoff construction work these types of projects provide. “These are sort of seedling ventures and we do expect a lot of later growth from.”

Noticeably absent on the construction calendar are any expansions or upgrades in the industrial sector, particularly among the city’s two largest cornerstone industries, St. Marys Paper and Algoma Steel Inc, the latter emerging from bankruptcy protection in January.

“We have no industrial work scheduled at all,” says Thomas, “obviously because the price of paper in the U.S. is sliding a bit and St. Marys has put some (upgrades) on hold, and that’s understandable.

“Algoma’s troubles are their troubles, and we don’t look to them for any great expenditures at all. If they do something we’re ahead of the game, and if they don’t I don’t want to be disappointed.”

There has been no word yet from the steelmaker on any plans to make much-needed repairs on its main No.7 blast furnace, he adds.

One projects underway is the $4.3-million Northern Treatment Centre, 36-bed remand centre and Alert Care’s 85-bed retirement residence, a $2.8-million project on the former Collegiate Heights property overlooking the city.

Wal-Mart is providing the Sault’s first big box retailing venture with a 100,000-square-foot outlet near the corner of Great Northern Road and Second Line, a $13-million project.

Sault College is making $4.2 million worth of renovations as part of a SuperBuild master plan project to reorganize space on the campus to provide room for the Ontario Provincial Police’s northeastern training facility, along with upgrades to the institution’s computer labs and aviation program.

Building figures for February provided by the city’s building division show total construction values of $6.16 million for February were up by $3.3 million from last year’s pace.

Residential construction dropped dramatically by more than $500,000 to $87,820 so far this year. Institutional values were up more than $4 million, while commercial and industrial spending fell by $190,000 and $129,000 respectively.