Overhead view shows clearly the problem of trying to building a new facility on the same site. The current hospital is right in the middle of the land. (Citizen file)

Overhead view shows clearly the problem of trying to building a new facility on the same site. The current hospital is right in the middle of the land. (Citizen file)

Seismic upgrades unlikely for old Cowichan hospital

Island Health must look at ‘responsible spending of public money’ when looking at earthquake readiness

Cowichan District Hospital was built to the seismic code current at the time of its construction in 1965-67.

The world looks at earthquake readiness quite a bit differently now, and in light of the collapse of a school building in Mexico City during a strong earthquake recently, people are looking at public buildings with fresh eyes.

According to Island Health, the hospital’s “additional components were also built according the seismic codes of their respective generations. Construction materials vary throughout the building. Our facilities and maintenance teams have upgraded many operational and functional systems within the hospital such as the generators, fuel supply, and emergency water supply. All of our sites have Emergency Management Plans in the event of an earthquake.”

But, is money going to be spent to bring the aging facility up to snuff?

Not, according to Dr. David Robertson, executive medical director for Geography 3 of Island Health, if plans go ahead to build a new hospital.

Significant analysis was done in 2010 about bringing Cowichan’s hospital into the 21st century.

The options discussed at the time were:

• structural upgrading of the old facility to bring it more in line with current standards;

• replacing the facility on the same site;

• replacing with a new facility on a different site.

The first idea had drawbacks, right from the start, he said.

“It became quite clear in our presentation at that time that upgrading that facility was not a worthwhile option because of the disruption that would happen and because of other things than strictly the structural issues. It’s a hospital that was designed for healthcare in the 1960s. And much of it is not appropriate to the current way we do healthcare. We would have ended up with a structurally sound, old facility. That was not the preferred option at the time,” he said.

Cowichan District Hospital was built half a century ago, and its construction style was indeed common for those days.

“The province recognizes, and Island Health recognizes, too, that there are a considerable number of buildings around the province of that age and that type. So, they’ve been working progressively to replace [them],” said Robertson. “That’s exactly what we’ve been doing in North Island, and have been for the last few years, building the two hospitals up there.”

The second option examined was replacing Cowichan District Hospital with another facility on the same site.

“That one, because of where CDH is located on [its] land we have it would be extraordinarily difficult,” he said. “It’s right in the middle of the land. If you look at Campbell River, we have replaced [it] with a new facility on the same site but the Campbell River Hospital was on the edge of the land so we built the new facility on the other end. We can’t do that at CDH. It’s sitting plumb in the middle of the piece of land and it would have been extraordinarily disruptive. So, while it would have been possible, it would not have been worth doing because of the disruption it would have caused all through the process.

“Therefore the preferred option from our point of view at that time was replacement with a new facility on a new piece of land,” Robertson said.

“Since then, Island Health has replaced two similar age facilities in the north of the Island, one of which opened on Sunday, in Comox Valley. And so that has been our priority. We are now moving on our priorities to Cowichan Hospital, which has been our declared No. 1 capital project since 2010.”

Island Health has been asked by the ministry to submit a concept plan as the first part of this process.

“That will be submitted to the ministry at the end of this year, along with, I imagine, other concept plans that they have commissioned from other places around the province, but I don’t know what those are.

“In creating the concept plan that will be submitted, we will re-examine all of the options with a view to spending public money in the best possible way. I think it’s likely that our conclusion will be the same that renovating the existing structure is not the best option to go with in terms of responsible spending of public money. Upgrading it we would end up with a structurally sound, old building that was designed for a different time. We will await the ministry’s decision regarding priorities,” Robertson said.

Once they submit the concept plan, the ministry will decide what their priorities are and where they wish to spend the money.

“At the moment there has been no money committed to replacing CDH,” he concluded.