Grafton Base Hospital early next year will boast three new operating theatres and an Emergency Department ‘equal to the best in Australia’ after Federal Page MP Janelle Saffin turned the first sod for the $19.7 million project today.

Ms Saffin said: “I am delighted to be able to turn the first sod for the long-awaited Grafton Base Hospital redevelopment work. It is an election promise to our Clarence Valley community and today’s sod turning with the immediate start of works that can be seen by the community makes it a seeing is believing reality.

“This is an election commitment made by me, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Minister for Health Nicola Roxon that gives me the greatest of pleasure. The people of Grafton fought hard for this and I am delivering.

“I especially thank the hospital’s Medical Council Chair, Dr Allan Tyson, former Grafton City mayor Shirley Adams OAM, former Clarence Valley mayor Cr Ian Tiley and current Clarence Valley Mayor Cr Richie Williamson for their strong support, and all those people who worked to ensure that the development of Grafton Base Hospital stayed on the political agenda.”

Ms Saffin’s shovel work on the surgical services construction site was also welcomed by health administrators, including NSW Public Works regional project manager Kevin Plummer, North Coast Area Health Service CEO Chris Crawford and Grafton Base staff, including Director of Nursing Beryl Jordan and new Executive Officer Dan Madden.

State Member for Clarence Steve Cansdell was an apology as he had a prior commitment in Sydney.

Ms Saffin confirmed that a total of $2.4 million had been spent on early works to pave the way for the redevelopment.

These early works included:

$600,000 for Ballina-based TF Woollams’ fit-out of public mental health services which have been relocated from Grafton Base to the nearby Aruma site.

And $400,000 on decommissioning old steam boilers at the hospital and replacing them with a natural gas heating system, reducing carbon emissions.

Ms Saffin said prior to a start-up workshop at the hospital on Monday, January 18, main works building contractor, Lahey Constructions, had already set out up to 20 concrete footings for the operating theatres.

“Health Infrastructure NSW delivery project manager Phil Cortis advises that work will start on the Emergency Department by the end of February, meaning that the two medical facilities will be built and fitted out almost concurrently,” she said.

“Lahey Constructions is a family company based in Kempsey with 30 years’ experience in building public facilities in New South Wales, and currently has contracts for Gosford Mental Health and the Coonamble Hospital redevelopment.

“Lahey’s project manager Vaughan Hitchings will have up to 40 tradespeople and apprentices on site at Grafton Base, and has a policy of employing local people wherever possible.

“The challenge is to minimise any disruptions to the hospital’s normal operations throughout 2010, so the Health Service will keep the community regularly informed about the redevelopment’s progress and any special arrangements which need to be put in place.