The Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU) is celebrating the completion of its long-awaited move down King Street to newer offices inside of Citi Plaza.
For the last several months, the health unit’s some 300 staff members have been moving in stages to the newly-refurbished space that spans 6,300 square metres on two levels of the downtown complex.
While health unit staff were moved in March 23 — a move that was expedited due to COVID-19 — and the offices opened March 30, the health unit says the endeavour will come to a final close on Thursday when members of the Board of Health will meet and vote to disband a relocation advisory committee formed as part of the project.
The MLHU’s satellite office in Strathroy, Ont., home to its vector-borne disease program, has not been impacted by the move.
In an interview Tuesday with 980 CFPL’s Jess Brady, Dr. Chris Mackie, the health unit’s CEO and medical officer of health for London and Middlesex, said he was impressed by the work of MLHU staff.
“We had the first phase of administrative folks moving in Jan.1 — well, Jan. 2, technically. And then the second phase was later in January. And we’ve now got all the clinical staff over, which was the third phase,” Mackie said.
“Even though this crazy work around coronavirus has been overtaking all of our lives, we’ve also been able to get people in the door on time and under budget.”
Early estimates peg the entire process, including construction on the new offices that began last summer by michael + clark Construction along with costs related to the subsequent move, as coming 15 to 20 per cent under budget, Mackie said.
“There still are some proprietary information around bid costs for some of the contractors, but we’ll make as much of that public as we can as soon as we can,” he said.
The move to new office space, five years in the making, means all of the health unit employees will now be working under one roof — something Mackie says has been the plan all along.
In addition to the health unit’s former, long-time building at 50 King St. — which the agency had called home since the 1980s — some staff had been working out of a second office at 201 Queens Ave. after MLHU outgrew King Street in the early 2000s.
While the new office space is smaller — 6,300 square metres compared to 7,900 square metres at 50 King St. — the health unit says staff are being “comfortably” moved into the new building through “creative and innovative use of space.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing nearly all of its staff to work from home, however, it will be a little while longer before the space is fully utilized.
“I have been through the facility, and spent many days working there in January. It’s got a really good feeling,” Mackie said.
“And having everyone together in one place, it’ll make a huge difference for our work.”
Some work at the new space remains to be finished, according to the health unit, which states the project was delayed by three weeks due to “demands on certain trades including drywalling and electrical work, as well as clinical change orders to ensure a top quality space for Health Unit clients and staff.”
The delay, a health unit report says, impacted completion on the clinic space and lower level, primarily.
“These challenges did not impact the opening of the clinic and the Health Unit was able to open to the public as scheduled on March 30th, 2020,” the report says. “At this time there are outstanding items that will be completed once some of the contractors re-open.”
It’s not the only hurdle that has interrupted the health unit’s plans to move from it’s long-time home at King and Ridout.
In early 2018, when health officials entered into a letter of intent with Citi Plaza, the health unit’s then-landlord, Middlesex County, attempted to block the move, voting against it and calling on the province to appoint an assessor to investigate MLHU’s decision-making processes.
The county voiced concerns over a lack of consultations, costs associated with the move, and an alleged failure to follow the Health Protection Promotion Act (HPPA).
Following a more than two-month judicial review, a Superior Court justice later ruled in the health unit’s favour, saying it was not appropriate for the county to use HPPA to prevent MLHU from leaving the space.
50 King St. and 399 Ridout St., the former couthouse next door that has been used as the county’s administration building, was purchased last year for $30 million by York Developments who plans to develop the site, known historically as the “Courthouse Block.”
— With files from Andrew Graham and Jacequelyn LeBel.