Valley Manor status report on redevelopment project – mounting costs a concern

At the Mar.21 Regular Meeting, Madawaska Valley Council heard a presentation from Valley Manor Long Term Care. Speaking on behalf of the Manor were Trisha DesLaurier, CEO, and Stacey McDonald, Director of Finance. Members of the Valley Manor Board also attended: Kathy Marion, Board Chair; Steve F. McCann, Vice-Chair; and Bill Rodnick, Secretary/Treasurer. Above: Artists concept of new Valley Manor.

In order to update the new MV Council on the status of the project, CEO DesLaurier reviewed the progress of the Valley Manor Redevelopment scheme from its inception in 2007 to date, highlighting some positive major milestones along the way including funding from Infrastructure Ontario and the acquisition of the former Sherwood School in Barry’s Bay. DesLaurier gave credit to the cooperative relationships formed with St. Francis Memorial Hospital (SFMH), St. Francis Valley Healthcare Foundation (SFVH) and Madawaska Valley Township.

She also told Council about some of the disappointments when funding applications were turned down. DesLaurier explained the impact of the pandemic on the redevelopment plans, pointing out that Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) best practices requirements meant the new building had to be modified to accommodate things such as physical distancing and storage for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Because of pandemic issues such as supply chain problems, the project costs escalated to nearly $50 million. (See below for more detail.) She said that despite the challenges of the pandemic, the project did progress as those two years saw the demolition of Sherwood School on the building site and the purchase of 25 acres of land (with assistance from St. Francis Memorial Hospital and MV Township) offering opportunities for future growth.

Artists’ concept showing the new Valley Manor, looking north from St. Francis Memorial Hospital and St. Francis Medical Centre (both shown in white) DesLaurier said the building would retain the Manor’s rustic charm, courtyard and gardens, plus offer potential leasing space for revenue generation.

Project costs rose during pandemic

The redevelopment team, architects and project managers aim to finalize the funding during 2023 and then to tender the project. Ministry approval of the new drawings with covid enhancements is expected to take up to six months. DesLaurier hopes they will be able to award the contract by the end of the year. Construction is expected to take 18 to 24 months, thus the year 2025 is earmarked for pre-occupancy of the new Valley Manor.

Project costs have escalated due to the pandemic.

Stacey McDonald, Finance Director, told Council that the project cost in 2021 estimate was $34.8 million ($362k per unit cost) Because of Covid, costs increased by about 40 percent to $48.9 million ($509k per unit). Among the increases shown (See above chart) is the item for Contingencies which has increased from $1.6million to $8.9 million. This was due in part to construction companies being shut down during the pandemic. McDonald revisited the figures this month with project managers Colliers who advised her that although the chart is labelled 2022, the figures remain accurate.

McDonald said a feasibility study by SFVH Foundation indicated that $500,000 would be a realistic fundraising goal but happily the campaign actually raised $1 million. DesLaurier pointed out that lobbying with Advantage Ontario helped to put in place different funding models from the province to replace the previous One-Size-Fits-All that was the norm when the project began. These take into account some of the issues presented by building in rural areas. Because Valley Manor is the only long term care facility within an hour’s drive, they managed to get an increase to the construction funding model.

Addressing the funding gap

DesLaurier said that they are working with the Ministry of Long Term Care about funding. In addition to updating MV Council on the status of the project, the Ministry has asked them to work with MPPs and municipalities. Thus the Valley Manor team has met with John Yakabuski, MPP Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke, and John Jordan, MPP Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston, who also serves as Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Long-Term Care. Valley Manor is now coming to municipalities, hence the presentation to MV Council.

Council’s questions

The first question from Council came from Councillor Mary Blank who wanted to know what Valley Manor needs from municipalities. DesLaurier explained that they are still researching various options by going back to Infrastructure Ontario, and will possibly be looking for some support from the municipality. She said other long term care projects have approached their municipalities to be guarantors on a loan, which would give Valley Manor more borrowing power. First, though, she said the Redevelopment team is gathering information and exploring how such an arrangement would work. In answer to Mayor Willmer, DesLaurier said that Valley Manor would come back to Council in the near future on this point.

Councillor Blank also discussed fundraising plans, saying this community always wants to know if more money is needed. She asked if Valley Manor will expand its fundraising program given the revised unit cost of about half a million dollars. DesLaurier replied that they are working with SFVH Foundation who, of course, also raise funds for Madawaska Valley Hospice Palliative Care and SFMH. The Foundation plans to continue fundraising for Valley Manor, for example with Rock-A-Thon, but currently any larger event is “in the works.”

Councillor Shelley Maika wanted to know whether Valley Manor was at capacity with all 90 beds occupied. DesLaurier explained that during the pandemic they could not accept new admissions so occupancy went down to 60 beds. They are currently taking two admissions per week and aim to be at capacity in May.

Councillor Joseph Olsheski said he could not understand why the contingency amount had not been reduced back to industry standard of ten percent. He said construction companies are no longer worried about being shut down because of covid, so a contingency of $8 million is “ridiculous.” McDonald said she did have those conversations with the project managers who maintained that the 2022 figures were still accurate and she stated that Valley Manor will revisit this item with them.

Mayor Mark Willmer asked how they intend to close that funding gap. He said, “If you can’t, will it have an impact on the project?” DesLaurier answered that they are working hard to explore unique models with the province through MPP John Jordan. She said that Valley Manor had done everything on their end and that, “there are some unique ways that the Ministry can assist us to close that funding gap.”

After the meeting, DesLaurier gave The Current her reaction: “I feel that our update was well received by Council. They have been very supportive throughout the entire redevelopment process and I can see that they are eager to work more closely with us as the project inches closer to fruition.” She continued, “We are at the stage where we will be relying on the Council to work with us and our project managers much more to get us to the finish line.”

Editor’s Note: This article has been amended to show at top a concept drawing of the new Valley Manor.

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