Government spent $12M returning Alberta superlab site to grassy field, documents show

Government documentation obtained by CBC News through a freedom-of-information request shows the money paid out to contractors and engineering consultants from June 30, 2019 to Aug. 13, 2020.

Hub would have consolidated laboratory testing in public sector

Work was underway this summer to transform the site into a community greenspace. (Stephen Cook/CBC)

Alberta Infrastructure spent about $12.1 million returning the former site of the Alberta superlab in south Edmonton to a grassy field, CBC News has learned.

That's the price tag cited in government documentation obtained through a freedom-of-information request. The documents show the money paid to contractors and engineering consultants from June 30, 2019 to Aug. 13, 2020.

According to contracting agreements, the remediation project was set to have its final acceptance by Sept. 30, 2020. Approximately $7 million went to contractor PCL Construction on April 30, one day after the work order was changed.

A spokesperson for Alberta Infrastructure said the costs went toward site restoration and maintenance as well as a closeout of all contracts.

"Contracts were restructured to reflect the work that was completed, the amount of compensation vendors would receive, and the restoration of the site," Eliza Snider said in a statement.

Between post-termination costs and $23 million spent on early construction, the total cost for shuttering the project comes out to $35 million.

The superlab was announced in December 2017 by the then-NDP government. The new facility was aimed at consolidating lab test processing under a single roof but not changing where Albertans got their testing done.

It was to be built on a piece of land just south of an Alberta Infrastructure building along 113th Street and Belgravia Road.

Officials promised a streamlined system that would produce quick and efficient test results when the hub was completed in 2022.

That plan also included a $50-million buyout of Dynalife, a private company that does testing for much of Edmonton and northern Alberta.

But in the 2019 election, the project became a target for then-UCP leader Jason Kenney. He said Dynalife's downtown Edmonton facility was doing its job effectively and that pulling services to the public sector would mean losses in office space and employment.

Construction on the superlab began in March of 2019 but was suspended within three days of the UCP's April election victory. It was officially cancelled in June.

The newly-elected government said $23 million of the planned $595-million capital budget for the project had already been spent.

"We're standing by our commitment to cancel the expensive and disruptive superlab project and the ideologically driven plan to nationalize Dynalife," Health Minister Tyler Shandro said at the time.

Alberta Health Minister Sarah Hoffman and Alberta Health Services staff pose in front of a picture of the Edmonton super lab location. (John Shypitka/CBC)

Shandro spokesperson Steve Buick said in a statement Friday the reasoning for the project's cancellation has not changed.

"The pandemic has indeed shown the effectiveness of our lab system, including that independent provider under contract to AHS as a partner within the integrated system, and without the NDP's proposed superlab."

This summer, Alberta Health Services unveiled plans to privatize all community labs across Alberta following a government-ordered review of AHS last year. The review concluded that outsourcing all remaining community lab tests would save $102 million a year. 

NDP health critic David Shepherd said cancelling the superlab was motivated by an "ideological dislike for the public sector."

"What we have here is we are losing the opportunities that we would have had to consolidate research, to bring people together to work on things that would have been in the investing in the economy of Alberta would have given us opportunities to develop new products," he said.

Shepherd warned that with the cancellation of the superlab, the province had lost a node for research and testing

"If should we face a similar situation in the future, another global pandemic, we're going to have a lot of capacity loss."

With files from Janet French