Irving Shipbuilding expects to officially sign a contract for the national shipbuilding deal in January, the company said Wednesday.

“We expect to sign that contract 15 January with the government,” said Kevin McCoy, president of Irving Shipbuilding. “That’s to build the Arctic offshore patrol ship. The first six ships.”

Irving expects to start hiring back laid-off workers in the spring of 2015 and is working with the Nova Scotia Community College to train the next generation of workers. 

'Nova Scotia is proud to be known around the world for our shipbuilding abilities.'- Andrew Younger, energy minister

“We’re extremely pleased with the progress on our facilities and are confident we’ll be ready to start building in September of next year,” said McCoy. 

“We expect our buildings to be weather tight by the end of this year, when we’ll shift our focus to the interior and the incredible amount of work left to make them production-ready. The men and women of Irving Shipbuilding certainly can’t wait to get started.”

Irving employs about 700 workers in the yard now. That will rise to 1,300 by 2018, and 2,000 by the early 2020s, McCoy said. 

McCoy said they’re on schedule and under budget by $20 million to $30 million so far in the design phase.

Assembly and Ultra Hall completed

Irving made the announcement as crews installed the last piece of the steel frame in the new Assembly and Ultra Hall Production facility that will produce the navy’s new combat fleet starting in September 2015.

 “The government of Canada congratulates Irving Shipbuilding on the important progress being made on this facility,” said Peter MacKay, the federal minister responsible for Nova Scotia.  “As Nova Scotians, we can be proud of the pivotal role our province is playing in our country's National Shipbuilding Strategy.”

Nova Scotia Environment Minister Andrew Younger added his praise.

“Nova Scotia is proud to be known around the world for our shipbuilding abilities, and we are pleased to be a partner in making sure we maximize the benefits of this project for our economy and our communities now, and into the future,” he said.

The first offshore patrol ship is scheduled to be ready by 2018.