County on the hook for high cost of HJ McFarland redevelopment

(Gazette file photo)

SARAH WILLIAMS

STAFF WRITER

Funds for a proposed  160 bed expansion of H.J. McFarland Memorial Home will need to sourced elsewhere as estimated costs for such a renovation are far outside the municipality’s ability to fund directly.

County Council received a report from Tom Kovendi, Projects Manager of the H.J. McFarland Memorial Home Development Services, detailed the estimated cost of this endeavour at last week’s Committee of the whole meeting.  The total estimated cost of the project, for a 155,173 gross square facility, is $93,567,672. That’s over $30 million more than the 2019 estimate.

The report was received as a Margetson/Roberts motion.

Built from 1972-1974, HJ McFarland Memorial Home is currently an 84 bed facility. As per the report, the “useful service life” of a facility such as the municipal long term care home would be about 50 years.

The report recommends staff consult with H.J. McFarland Memorial Home management, staff, family council, resident council, stakeholders and the public concerning the design of the new long term care home during the Functional Programming and Preliminary Design phases of the project in early 2022. It is also recommended that other means of supporting the financing of the long-term care build beyond provincial grants and municipal debt, including, but not limited to Development Charges and Sponsorships.

The recommendation was also made that Council direct the Mayor to write a letter to the Ontario Minister of Finance and the Minister of Long-Term Care, requesting that The County’s new long-term care home project’s debt financing not impact The County’s Annual Repayment Limit (ARL), and that the province consider interest free loans for the portion that is debt financed given the provincial grant portion is paid over 25 years.

Referencing the June 2019 announcement from the provincial government, in which 76 new long term care beds were announced at the home, Councillor John Hirsch inquired as to whether the province is still footing 60 to 80 per cent of the redevelopment project, as promised.

Councillor John Hirsch. (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)

“In June 2019, the Government of Ontario announced it will add 76 new long term care beds and upgrade the 84 existing beds,” began Hirsch. “If I understand the report correctly, the province is only going to cover about 31 per cent of cost and we are stuck with the rest based on this new $93 million dollar project. Can you confirm this is correct?”

Kyle Cotton, Executive Director of HJ McFarland Memorial Home confirmed that, due in part to escalating construction costs, Hirsch’s assertion is correct.

“In 2019 there was understanding that roughly 60 to 80 per cent of cost of development would be covered by province. Our current estimation shows approximately 30 to 40 per cent will be covered in part due to escalating costs, construction costs, supply chain management etc.”

Additional sources of funding need to be found, stated Hirsch.

“We can’t afford this, as it stands,” he said.

Councillor Bill Roberts asked whether frontline workers at the home had been consulted about the forthcoming redevelopment.

“Are there any frontline staff involved in the actual project team and the reason I ask is that, first of all, it’s an acknowledgment that these people give round the clock care to residents, but given it’s a new facility I imagine it opens up a new way of doing things,” said Roberts. “If there’s any group of people or stakeholders that could have good ideas it might be those folks.”

Cotton replied that frontline workers had been consulted during staff meetings but did not include staff in the visioning process.

“At this stage, frontline staff have been provided with opportunities through staff meetings… staff have been able to ask questions,” said Cotton. “The visioning that occurred October 6th was for a specific dedicated group, but we sent out the messaging to all frontline staff with the same type of questions to ask them as well. As we get further on into the program phases, we want to get their input.”