New hospital sets the standard

Since building began in September 2008, staff and patients at Wairau Hospital in Blenheim have endured dust, noise and disruption. From the rubble of demolished buildings, a smart new hospital has risen to be officially opened tomorrow by Minister of Health Tony Ryall.

The turning of the first sod was the highlight of the Wairau Hospital rebuild project for its director, Martin Ridgway.

It was July 23, 2008, and the Ministry of Health had just approved the $45.7 million Nelson Marlborough District Health Board project, after requiring that the original plans be redrawn to include the more flexible use of space and staff and zones for expansion. All funding was to come from the board, apart from a $12.5m loan from the Government.

The low point was waiting more than 50 days for then-health minister David Cunliffe's final sign-off, which delayed building by about four months, added six months to the total project and increased costs from an original estimate of $36.6m.

"We just wanted to get the spade in the ground and get on with building," Mr Ridgway said.

After that wait, it was exciting to see pine trees coming down and diggers arriving on day one of the build.

The second highlight was seeing the first staff move into the new hospital and start working, in May 2009.

With hindsight, Mr Ridgway acknowledges the ministry's requirements resulted in a better hospital, able to absorb patient peaks and troughs by reassigning beds between adjacent wards.

Wairau Hospital led New Zealand with this approach, likely to become the norm for other small communities, he said.

Another point of pride was that the project came in on budget.

Costs were a little higher on the building side, but savings were made on equipment, including recycling some old furniture such as desks and chairs.

Mr Ridgway said staff and community input made heading Marlborough's biggest-ever capital project especially rewarding.

He attended almost 1000 consultation meetings with about 12 clinical groups and a community liaison group to fine-tune the building design and add a local feel. Nice touches included staff being given mugs carrying the words, "I survived the Wairau Hospital redevelopment project, 2008-10" packed with fruit or sweets.

Keeping the hospital working during the rebuild was a logistical nightmare, and involved temporary shutdowns of water, medical gases and fire alarms.

Mr Ridgway acknowledges the valuable contribution of administrator and communications co-ordinator Susannah Findlay, who kept 500 hospital staff in touch with what to expect, day-to-day, as well as publishing a newsletter and keeping records.

Construction was headed by Auckland-based Hawkins, "an excellent operator which engaged a lot of local contractors to do the work".

Since building began in 2008, 500 people had worked on the site.

One public niggle with the project, which Mr Ridgway says will be fixed, is lack of parking in front of the hospital, now that all visitors are channelled through a single main entrance, compared with the 18 to 20 entrances that led to the old hospital.

From next week, staff will park behind the hospital, freeing up the Hospital Rd park for the public.
Other final touches include demolishing the oldest hospital building, the kitchen, built in the 1920s.

Within weeks, Mr Ridgway will turn out the lights of the project development office in the old nurses' home and walk down the stairs for the final time.

Being involved in such a major project in his home town had been a privilege and a joy, he said.


2005: Concept plans to rebuild Wairau Hospital in Blenheim are released, including selling part of the site to fund the project.

August 2006: The business case for the hospital rebuild is accepted by the Ministry of Health.

June 2008: The preliminary design is completed.

July 2008: The turning of the sod ceremony.

September 2008: Minister of Health David Cunliffe signs off and building begins.

May 2009: Inpatients, pharmacy, child and adolescent mental health, district nursing, allied health (physiotherapy, occupational therapy, social work, language therapy) and the chapel move.

February 2010: Laboratory, emergency department, high dependency, acute assessment clinical records and support services departments move. The demolition of the 1969 clinical services block begins.

March 2010: The radiology department moves.

April 2010: The demolition of the 67-year-old nurses' home extension begins.

November 2010: New main entrance, outpatients, oncology, day-stay, maternity and paediatric wards open.

December 2010: The new cafe opens.

January 2011: Demolition begins of wards 5, 6, 7 and 8, built in 1942.

April 2011: Adult mental health and addiction services staff move.

May 2011: The first meals are served from the new kitchen.

June 18, 2011: The hospital officially opens.

The Marlborough Express