Premier Christy Clark announced Wednesday that a $325-million renovation of Penticton Regional Hospital will go ahead.

Premier Christy Clark announced Wednesday that a $325-million renovation of Penticton Regional Hospital will go ahead.

Update: Clark gives go-ahead for $325-million expansion at Penticton hospital

Centrepieces of project will be seven-storey tower, expanded emergency department and new in-patient beds

Even the chief of staff at Penticton Regional Hospital was caught off-guard by Wednesday’s announcement of a $325-million renovation of the facility that will include a new seven-storey tower.

“Actually, it’s more than we asked for,” said Dr. Brad Raison.

“I think the government rightly saw that rather than building (just) an ambulatory care tower, we needed new beds and things as well.”

Premier Christy Clark received a standing ovation after making the announcement during a speech to the Penticton and Wine Country Chamber of Commerce.

She told reporters afterwards that although the project, which will create 26,700 square metres of new space, had been conceived as a $300-million build with a five-storey ambulatory care tower as the centrepiece, development of the business case helped planners see even bigger possibilities.

“There’s no point in building small when you can, with the same budget, build more,” Clark said, “because we know that this community’s going to grow, we know that health-care need is going to grow, and we want to think ahead, plan ahead to be able to meet that.”

Health Minister Terry Lake said construction will begin in 2016 and proceed in two phases with the tower going up first, followed renovation of part of the existing hospital.

“The tower should be finished early 2019. The renovations to the second part should be done late 2019 or early 2020,” he said, adding the process of selecting private-sector partners to undertake design and construction will begin later this summer and take about 18 months.

The new tower will include a walk-in clinic, surgical services and space for a medical school, he continued, while the renovated portion of the existing hospital will see the emergency department quadruple in size and areas such as pharmacy, laundry and stores receive upgrades.

Lake said the total number of in-patient beds at PRH will increase from 140 to 155, and four-person rooms will become a thing of the past.

“This will be a very modern facility with 80 per cent single-occupancy rooms, which is the standard for infection control,” he explained.

“The facilities will be state-of-the-art, and I think the people there will be excited about this. They’ve worked in infrastructure that’s been below standard for awhile and done an amazing job.”

Lake added that Interior Health will receive an unspecified “one-time (funding) lift for the transition, then IH will have to manage the operating (costs) in their global budget.”

The B.C. government will contribute $183 million to the build, some of which the private-sector partner may fund, the minister said, while the Okanagan-Similkameen Regional Hospital District will chip in $122 million and the local hospital foundation $20 million.

Janice Perrino, who heads the latter two groups, wiped tears from her eyes as she spoke to reporters after the announcement.

“We are absolutely thrilled. It couldn’t be better,” she said.

Local residents shouldn’t notice a tax increase to fund the tower, Perrino added, because the current hospital levy, which has already raised about $30 million, will be roughly equal to expected payments on the bond issue required to help fund construction.