Health Minister Steve Kent says the $40 million spent to date on the new Corner Brook hospital is 'quite normal' for such a large project, and describes criticism of the spending as unreasonable and ill-informed.

"Forty-million dollars on laying the groundwork through design and site preparation and preparing for construction, that's quite normal," Kent during and interview with the Corner Brook Morning Show Wednesday.

"And there's much more to come given the project is going to cost about $800 million overall."

An empty site

The hospital was first announced by the provincial government in 2007, and has been criticized by opposition MHAs and area residents for the amount of time it's taking to complete the project.

A breakdown of the amount of money spent to date was revealed in response to an access to information request.

There's very little to see at the site to explain the spending of $40 million.

Barry Wheeler, a member of a hospital action committee on the west coast, said Wednesday he was floored by the level of spending.

He also questioned whether the hospital, in its current form, would ever be built, considering the province's fiscal situation.

"We have $40 million spent and we have nothing to show for it right now," said Wheeler.

Kent says spending 'totally reasonable'

Kent defended the costs to date.

He said "considerable progress" has been made, and the money spent on preparations for construction are "totally reasonable."

Construction at Corner Brook hospital

This file photo from 2014 shows site work being carried out at the future site of the new Corner Brook hospital. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

The $8-million contract for grading the site has been questioned, but Kent said it's simply the cost of doing business on such a large site.

There's also costs related to site clearing, surveys, road construction, and water and sewer infrastructure.

A second functional plan ordered

An original functional program and plan for the hospital was completed at a cost of $1.6 million in 2009, but a year later, the government ordered a second plan, this time at a cost of $12 million.

Kent said the original plan "didn't make sense" because it envisioned replacing Western Memorial with a similar complex. 

"We want to build a hospital that will meet the needs of the region well into the future," Kent said, adding the original plan didn't include radiation therapy or PET scan services, which has since been added.

Some $12 million was also spent for the design of a health centre campus.

More work planned

Kent said he understands that people are frustrated by the amount of time it's taking to complete the project, but he said the amount of spending to date is a symbol of the government's commitment to building a new hospital.

He said $10 million will be spent this year on a water treatment facility and further site upgrades. 

And he expects a contract to be awarded this fall for the construction of a new long-term care facility, which will occupy the same site and should be ready by 2018.