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New arena just one major project underway.

Hockey fans in Sault Ste. Marie will have mixed emotions when the wrecking ball is taken to the 55-year-old Memorial Gardens to make way for the city's new Sports and Entertainment Centre.

The $25-million arena, scheduled to open this fall, is one of many big ticket construction projects either under way or on the horizon for what may be a banner year for commercial and industrial building in the city.

Nick Apostle, the city's commissioner of community services, says the 4,400-seat downtown facility, located just metres away from the Gardens, is 60-per-cent complete.

"It's on schedule and on budget."

Electricity has been hooked up to the building and the roof has enclosed the upper bowl, main event level and the 13 luxury suites. All the suites have been pre-sold on a 10-year lease basis with another 25 in the works for the future. The bleacher pre-cast is complete with the suites pre-cast scheduled for mid-March.

A "soft" open house is scheduled for late August with a formal opening planned for the Labour Day weekend and the opening of the Ontario Hockey League season in September.

The demolition of the old 3,500-seat Memorial Gardens is tentatively scheduled for mid-April or whenever the Greyhounds hockey club is finished their playoff season. Bond-field Construction Ltd., the project managers, have not tendered any sub-contracts yet.

The city intends to sell the arena's naming rights and is negotiating with Steelback Brewery of Tiverton, Ont.

"They're very interested and we're seeing if we can strike a deal," says Apostle. The city has hired consultant Front Row Marketing to assist in the process.

Rick Thomas, manager of the Sault Ste. Marie Construction Association, says there is a broad balance of industrial, commercial and institutional projects on the go in the Sault. That includes last month's announcement of a SIAG Great Lakes Partnership, a joint venture between Algoma Steel and Germany's Schaaf Industrie AG to build a $35-million wind tower manufacturing plant.

"We're looking toward a great year, particularly because of the range of the size of the projects. We did a good job of listing several major projects."

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On the transportation end, the city's truck route is to be finished by September. The $18.5-million project is part of a larger $22-million plan that will address a long-standing problem of improving the traffic flow of transport trucks around the International Bridge Plaza and through the downtown.

Jerry Dolcetti, commissioner of engineering and planning, says the city is anticipating some cost over-runs when they release the final tally of the project, due to higher-than-expected property acquisition costs.

About 60 properties were acquired and demolished by the city to make way for the three-kilometre corridor, paralleling the Canadian National Railway line and connecting the bridge to Second Line, a main transportation artery in the city's north end that joins with the Trans Canada Highway.

Dolcetti says work north of Wellington Street is further along in its completion because less underground infrastructure was needed. Contractors are working south of Wellington on a major reconstruction with full services along Queen Street West to complete.

"The corridor is proceeding very well and we anticipate both contractors to begin their respective work as soon as weather permits."

Construction of a new hospital is expected to get underway next year.

"We're expecting to finish the design process this summer and tentatively (we will be) going out with our Request for Proposal in September," says Harry Koskenoja, project manager at Sault Area Hospital (SAH).

EPOH Inc. is the designer of the three-level, 289-bed facility. The 500,000-square-foot building will be located in the city's north end, on a 57-acre site just off Great Northern Road and Third Line, directly south of the new F.J. Davey Home.

The roughly $200-million project is among the first major public capital projects in Ontario financed through the private sector under the province's new Alternative Financing and Procurement process.

Koskenoja projects the start of construction in June 2007 with the ribbon cutting in 2009, "but that remains to be negotiated with whomever the contractor turns out to be.

"What's new for Sault Ste. Marie is that we'll have a (cancer) radiation therapy facility, part of a 25,000-square-foot oncology unit. We haven't had that in the Sault and whenever the hospital gets operational that's the first time we'll have that service locally.

"The public won't see any action (on site) in September, it'll all be documents flowing back and forth between government, ourselves and the bidders."

SAH is talking with the province about carrying out some preliminary site work for an access road off of Great Northern Road.

Local contractors and tradespeople are involved in building 132 wind mills at Brookfield Power's Prince Wind Farm on Lake Superior with about 70 kilometres of access road being built in the western outskirts of the city in to the site.

The construction association's Thomas says each part of the two-phase development involves building 30 kilometres of road plus an electricity access corridor back to the Trans Canada Highway to get power out to the Ontario grid.

Local contractors are also eagerly awaiting the start of the $54-million Borealis tourist attraction planned for the waterfront Gateway site. Legacy Quest Developments Inc., a subsidiary of Toronto's Garforth Group, has selected PCL Construction of Ottawa to be project manager.

No start-time for construction has been set, says Thomas, but "we expect it to be announced week-to-week now."

He says the plethora of projects is expecting to create many sub-trade opportunities for his members.

"We're pretty much at capacity now. Algoma Steel's success is enabling them to spend a fair amount of money with us on projects they've been putting off for years."

The Algoma District School Board is spending $6.4 million on renovation works in its schools this year with painting, new carpeting, flooring, boilers, roof and window replacements, office renovations and exterior work being planned.

Thomas says it's relatively minor work, but "that stuff is important to us because small members get to work 30 to 60 days, get paid, and go on to the next thing."

He also expects the Ontario government to announce plans for a long-awaited youth detention facility on Second Line property to come on-stream in the next few months. Funding on the project was cut off two years ago but has been restored.

Despite the nation-wide shortage of skilled labour, Thomas says it is not an across-the-board problem in the Sault and is not affecting the progress of any major developments.

"We have specific spot shortages of people," says Thomas, mentioning the limited supply of millwrights, ironworkers and pipefitter trades for short-term, shutdown jobs.

"We have a tough time manning those high demand blitzes ... but those problems are pretty common in the construction industry and those problems get solved with mobility" by bringing travelling tradespeople in.

Some individual tradespeople are moving to high construction activity areas such as Alberta's oil patch, but most contractors are staying home, he says.

"We face the same shortage of trades that others do through attrition, retirement, and those not coming into the trades. It's a much more general problem for the construction industry than a specific market or trade issue locally."

www.newhospital.ca

By IAN ROSS

Northern Ontario Business
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Author:Ross, Ian
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Apr 1, 2006
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