MaRS lab relocation costs could top $86M
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Oct 04, 2014  |  Vote 0    0

MaRS lab relocation costs could top $86M

Public Health Ontario is moving its massive infectious disease lab into the troubled MaRS tower later this month at a cost of at least $86 million


Public Health Ontario is moving its massive infectious disease lab into the troubled MaRS tower later this month at a cost of at least $86 million.

But the price could balloon by as much as $7.5 million more pending the outcome of negotiations over who will foot the bill for additional renovations to the space.

“Discussions between the project management team and MaRS are ongoing regarding responsibilities for additional costs for further construction on the building before PHO can move in,” Shannon Zimmerman, an aide to Health Minister Eric Hoskins, said in an email.

“This is expected to be in the range of $5 million to $7.5 million and at this point discussions are ongoing. Discussions like these commonly take place with construction projects of this magnitude,” wrote Zimmerman.

The cost of relocating the “containment level 3” facility from Resources Road in Etobicoke to the southeast corner of University Avenue and College Street — steps from Queen’s Park — will be over and above the $309 million the Liberal government has sunk into the MaRS Discovery District.

Scientists will take over the top four floors of the 20-storey building and Zimmerman said the new facility will boast a “certified air-filtration system as well as a certified liquid and solid waste decontamination system.”

Last week, the province announced it was paying $65 million to buy out the building’s developer, Alexandria Real Estate (ARE).

That’s on top of a $224-million loan to MaRS from 2011, $3.61 million in debt-service payments, and $16.2 million used to purchase the land.

The transfer of the 400 public health staff was announced by former premier Dalton McGuinty’s administration in July 2011.

It stems from a key recommendation of the 2006 judicial report on the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak that killed 44 people in 2003.

“The SARS Commission Report provided us with 21 lessons of SARS that we have taken in to account when reforming public health,” wrote Zimmerman.

“One of those principles was the creation of an Ontario Centre for Disease Control, which would support the chief medical officer of health. This centre should have a critical mass of public health expertise, strong academic links, and central laboratory capacity. MaRS, as a location, creates a strong link to academic institutions and provides that central location,” she continued.

Despite the problems that have swirled around the MaRS tower, which is only 31 per cent occupied, Premier Kathleen Wynne defends the government’s support of the complex.

“What we are doing is supporting a very important hub of research and commercialization of business here in Ontario,” the premier said Wednesday.

“It’s very important to us that phase 2 of MaRS be successful and so we are going to work to make sure that that is the case. Part of that is making sure that there’s a place — that there’s a building, that there is the infrastructure to make that happen,” said Wynne.

“The advice that we have gotten is that this is a good arrangement for the province of Ontario and as I say we’re very supportive of the work that’s being done at MaRS and we want to make sure that it’s going to be successful.”

Progressive Conservative MPP Randy Hillier (Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington) questioned the wisdom of placing the lab downtown.

“As far as MaRS is concerned, we’ve got the Keystone Cops here,” said Hillier, noting Public Health Ontario’s existing Etobicoke lab was renovated only in 2010 and the agency’s warehouse will remain on Resources Road.

“We’re warehousing these specimens and what-not in Etobicoke, but doing the research on them on University Avenue. It’s highly problematic,” the MPP said.

“Movement of dangerous and infection specimens through the downtown core is . . . something you want to keep away from,” he said, adding other potential MaRS tenants may be leery about leasing space in the tower.

“Was it a contributing factor to MaRS not being able to rent out the rest of the floors, I’m not sure. But it certainly wouldn’t be a big carrot that you’d go out and tell everybody.”

Toronto Star

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