Housing could be a problem for staff at the new $887.4-million Cowichan District Hospital, as well as the workers who will construct it, according to the chief project officer for the facility.
Wesley Davidson was asked during a virtual community update on the project that was held on Oct. 27 whether he felt there would be enough housing for employees if the Municipality of North Cowichan downsized development in the Bell McKinnon local area plan.
Davidson said he doesn’t expect current employees at the old hospital on Gibbins Road, who already have homes, will have many housing issues, but future employees at the hospital, which is expected to be three times as large as the current facility, might face housing challenges.
He said housing could also be an issue for the workers who will build the new hospital, which will see construction begin in the spring of 2022 and conclude in the fall of 2026.
“We are currently asking [the companies that are vying to take part in the construction project] to develop workforce-demand models and the models will have a direct impact on the requirements for housing, and the companies will have to account for that in their proposals,” Davidson said.
“Housing is a challenge in the Cowichan Valley and we will actively participate with the municipality whenever we can to support housing initiatives. The new hospital will need services and housing around it to support it.”
After concerns were raised about too much development in the plans for Bell McKinnon area by some councillors and residents, North Cowichan’s committee of the whole recommended to council in September that it downsize the development in the area from what was originally called for in the local area plan.
That would see up to 6,000 housing units constructed in the area, which is about 4,000 less than the original plan.
Greg Johnson, a spokesman for BC Infrastructure Benefits, the provincial Crown corporation that provides the qualified skilled trades workforce for the construction of public infrastructure projects operating under the Community Benefits Agreement, said in the community update that construction of the hospital will be carried out with as many local workers as possible.
He said BCIB will have an Island-first approach to hiring and is mandated to see that as many local workers get an opportunity for jobs at the construction site as possible.
“There are a lot of folks underrepresented in the skilled trades in B.C., with only six per cent of the construction industry comprised of woman, and six per cent of Indigenous workers,” Johnson said.
“There is lot of room for improvement. Those without construction skills are encouraged to apply and we’ll do our best to connect them to training.”