Construction begins on long-promised $1.4B Calgary Cancer Centre

Shovels finally dug in the ground at an official groundbreaking for Calgary's $1.4-billion cancer centre on Friday, with the NDP government saying construction is two months ahead of schedule with an anticipated opening of 2023.

Facility will have 160 inpatient beds, 12 radiation vaults and more than 100 chemotherapy chairs

From left: Premier Rachel Notley; Dr. Francois Belanger, chief medical officer for Alberta Health Services; Will Morlidge, cancer centre patient and family advisor, with daughter Virginia; Infrastructure Minister Sandra Jansen; and Health Minister Sarah Hoffman break ground on the new Calgary Cancer Centre on Friday. (Government of Alberta)

Will Morlidge wishes his wife had lived to see the groundbreaking of the new Calgary Cancer Centre.

Morlidge and his four-year-old daughter, Virginia, were on hand Friday for the groundbreaking of the $1.4-billion facility to be built on the Foothills Hospital site.

"I'm standing in today for my wife Rebecca," Morlidge said. "I had the honour of being Rebecca's husband for just over 10 years, and, sadly, Rebecca was overcome by a reoccurrence of her cancer this last August. She lost the battle."

​The new facility is being built at the northeast corner of the Foothills hospital campus in northwest Calgary. 

The NDP government says construction is two months ahead of schedule with an anticipated opening of 2023. It's expected to have twice as much space available for clinical trials and for patient treatment as the aging Tom Baker centre.

The state-of-the-art facility will offer comprehensive treatment for cancer patients as well as cutting-edge research labs,  Infrastructure Minister Sandra Jansen said.

"This is one of the largest construction projects underway in Alberta and will be an economic generator in Calgary and throughout southern Alberta," Jansen said.

The new facility at the northeast corner of the Foothills campus will span more than one million square feet, include a 1,650-stall underground parking garage and feature an elevated walkway connecting it with other buildings. (PCL Construction)

The centre will have 160 inpatient beds, 12 radiation vaults, more than 100 patient exam rooms and more than 100 chemotherapy chairs.

It will span more than one million square feet and include a 1,650-stall underground parking garage.

A 984-foot-long elevated walkway will connect it with other parts of the Foothills campus.

Construction of the centre will create 1,500 jobs in Calgary over the next six years, the province says. 

Construction to close west lane, sidewalk

During construction, the west lane and sidewalk on 29th Street will be closed, with pedestrian traffic diverted to the east side of the street, the government said.

It expects excavation, shoring and piling activity will run to spring 2018.

The new cancer centre is projected to cost $1.4 billion and be ready to open in 2023. (Government of Alberta)

Centre now expected to open in 2023

The previous Progressive Conservative government had planned to replace the ageing Tom Baker Cancer Centre with new facilities spread out across several different hospitals, but that plan drew fire from patients. 

Construction was originally to begin in 2015 or 2016, with the centre to be completed by 2020. 

When the NDP was elected in 2015, it initially pledged to build a single new centre at the existing Foothills hospital site, as originally planned.

The government also said it hoped to maintain the original timeline, which called for construction to begin in 2015 or 2016 and to be completed by 2020.

Then, in its first budget, in 2015, the NDP said the opening would be delayed until 2024.

The government said Friday it now anticipates the centre to open in 2023.

Groundbreaking 'politically timed', professor says

Lori Williams, associate professor of policy studies at Mount Royal University, says it's no coincidence that the NDP held the official groundbreaking shortly after the new United Conservative Party made headlines by choosing Jason Kenney as leader.

"It's clearly just politically timed," she said.

"They can't just let the agenda be driven by Jason Kenney and the UCP. They've got to get their message out there. And this is simply trying to remind Albertans what they're doing for them."

With files from Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press