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Super hospital butts heads with Westmount

McGill begins construction without a building permit

Construction on the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) super hospital has hit a snag after construction began on a temporary parking lot in the city of Westmount without a building permit.

“Last week they just started,” said Peter Trent, mayor of Westmount. “[Having a permit] is the first principle of construction in any city around the world.”

The 500-single-patient-room medical facility, costing $1.34 billion, is slated to open in 2014. While most of the construction is taking place in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, the construction firms building the hospital – Montreal-based SNC-Lavalin and British company Innisfree Ltd. – are building a temporary parking lot for construction workers at the site of the former Glen rail yards in Westmount, near the Vendôme metro station.

Westmount is an independent city surrounded Montreal and enforces its own standards and regulations on construction projects in its municipality. Westmount, the MUHC, and their partners have been negotiating for a month, but negotiations stalled over disagreements relating to level of anti-noise measures.

“They want to build a parking lot…in Westmount territory,” said Trent. “We want to make sure [construction] doesn’t negatively affect our residents.”

Construction at the Glen yards site was stopped when the companies were issued a “stop-work order” on Tuesday, according to Trent. Julie Paquette, Head of Communications for MUHC, said that the full sound barrier Westmount had wanted was both unfeasible and unnecessary.

“It was unnecessary because a study our partners produced showed that the noise generated by parking was lower than the ambient noise,” said Paquette. “There’s no point building a sound barrier if there’s no sound to be blocked.”

Residents around the Glen yards site initially raised noise complaints in early November, when construction workers began driving steel poles, made to support the new buildings, into the bedrock. The pile driving, which starts at seven in the morning and continues all day, is expected to last until February. The hospital set up a noise complaint hotline two weeks ago to address the complaints.

According to Paquette, the consequences of not having a temporary parking lot would be more disruptive to the community than the noise pollution.

“[A full] sound barrier would have been very expensive,” said Paquette. “It would have blocked some parking spaces. Workers would have had to park in residential spaces.”

Paquette voiced concerns that, if a temporary parking lot was not constructed, workers would be forced to park throughout the neighbouring residential areas. Trent estimated that the parking lot would hold between 800 and 900 vehicles.

“This is why we needed this to go forward,” said Paquette. “Parking needs to be there and installed. We don’t want to have construction workers going into residential areas and parking in people’s places.”

Paquette said that Westmount and the construction partnership had agreed to a temporary anti-noise measure, with panels of plywood being mounted around the Glen yards site. The agreement is currently under its technical review, and she expects Westmount to approve the measure and issue a permit this week. Paquette said that the conflict has not delayed construction or put the project behind schedule. Construction has continued in NDG throughout the negotiations with Westmount.

“By next week we’ll give them a permit and they can start work,” said Trent. “It’s the normal practice in any city.”

Trent has been attributing the MUHC’s legal negligence to a possible superiority complex on the part of the MUHC and their international partners, telling the CBC that the partnership feel they “don’t have to kowtow to anything as trivial…as a building permit.”

“The same rule applies. No one’s above the law, not even the MUHC,” said Trent. “They just thought we’d turn a blind eye. That’s not the way we operate.”