Edmonton

Whatever happened to the Alberta superlab?

The site of a hotly-contested $595-million capital project now returns to relative obscurity.

Announced by the NDP in 2017, it was shelved soon after the UCP came to power

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

South of an Alberta Infrastructure building along 113th Street and Belgravia Road is an empty field, visible from the passing LRT.

The site was once the centre of a major governmental effort to overhaul medical laboratory testing in Alberta and bring it wholly into the public sector.

It is now a fenced-off grassy field with patches of earth.

Let's take a look at how we got here.

What was the superlab all about?

The story of the superlab begins in May 2016, when a review of lab services by the Health Quality Council of Alberta suggested moving the province to a "single public sector platform."

Later that year, it came to light that Alberta Health Services was planning to buy out the private lab testing company Dynalife and transfer services back to the province.

In this 2017 photo, then-health minister Sarah Hoffman poses with Alberta Health Services staff pose in front of a picture of the Edmonton superlab location. (John Shypitka/CBC)

But the true start came in December 2017 when Sarah Hoffman, health minister in Rachel Notley's NDP government, announced plans for a new integrated facility — the superlab — on land already owned by the province near the University of Alberta's South Campus.

The new facility would consolidate lab test processing under a single roof but not change where Albertans got their testing done. Hoffman promised a streamlined system that would produce quick and efficient test results.

Construction was expected to begin in 2019 and be completed by 2022.

What happened to the superlab?

The project became a target for Jason Kenney during the 2019 provincial election.

The then-UCP leader 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.

Kenney accused the NDP government of being ideologically-driven. Hoffman accused him of turning the project into a political football.

The pronouncement that a UCP government would cancel the lab was criticized by the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, a union representing thousands of healthcare workers, who said the Dynalife location was stretched to the limit and a new lab had to be built.

Nonetheless, Kenney kept his promise. Work was halted on the site within a week of the UCP's sweeping electoral victory. The work had begun a month earlier.

In June, it became official: the superlab was cancelled, alongside the planned $50-million buyout of Dynalife. The newly-elected government said $23 million of the planned $595-million capital budget for the project had already been spent.

What now for the grounds?

At the time the project was cancelled, fencing, machinery, and great piles of freshly-dug dirt were visible signs of an active construction site.

Edmonton's superlab, on the University of Alberta South Campus, around the time construction was halted. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

Little of that remains. Instead, contractors in the last few months have been grading and sodding the area as part of a plan to return the site to much the same as it was before the superlab was ever conceived.

"Alberta's government is committed to restoring the construction site area to a natural, safe, green field site that can be enjoyed by the community," Hadyn Place, press secretary for Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda, said in an email last week.

The field is expected to be completed in the summer of 2021 following a complete growing season.

About the Author

Stephen David Cook is a journalist based in Edmonton, Alberta. You can reach him on Twitter at @stephencooked or via email at stephen.cook@cbc.ca.

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