Alberta Health Services’ plan for a new $3 million helipad at Banff’s Mineral Springs Hospital won’t go ahead now that STARS air ambulance has relocated its newer, faster helicopter from Calgary to Edmonton.
Last October, STARS moved a new Augusta Westland-139 helicopter, which was bought for $16 million after a successful fundraising campaign, to Edmonton and now operates one BK-117 out of Calgary, with a second available as a backup.
Steve Rees, senior program officer of capital management for Alberta Health Services, said plans for Banff’s helipad, which is a raised earth structure built in 1998, are being revised.
“With STARS’ operational plans changing to not use the larger helicopters in southern Alberta, we’ve re-looked at our plans and said we want to spend the money most effectively,” he said. “It certainly won’t be a $3 million project anymore.”
STARS made a decision to base both new AW-139 helicopters in Edmonton to save an estimated $500,000 a year, including training and maintenance costs, plus the fact there are more remote missions in northern Alberta than southern Alberta.
Rees said AHS still plans to make some minor improvements related to the Banff helipad, such as improving security and access controls, signage, automatic door openers and other basic upgrades.
“We’re not exactly sure what we’re looking at there. We want to make sure safety comes first, not only with helicopter landing, but with access for patients and staff,” he said. “There could be some scope identified in the coming weeks.”
Last June, Banff’s municipal planning commission approved a development permit for construction of a 5.3-metre high helipad on Lynx Street.
Building a new helipad five metres above ground provided adequate clearance to meet Transport Canada standards to mitigate surrounding obstructions for the proposed flight path.
In addition, the development also would have included a connecting walkway and elevator to get patients directly to and from ambulance bays and the emergency rooms in the hospital.
Alberta Health Services had planned to start construction over summer 2016, but Rees said the project was held up, in part due to tendering costs and ongoing work with Transport Canada.
“There was a bit of luck involved,” Rees said. “I feel very fortunate because I would have felt sick if we built the helipad and then learned a month later that STARS had changed its plan.”
The $3 million assigned to the Banff helipad upgrades was part of a $25 million fund provided by the provincial government for helipads needing upgrades to accommodate STARS’ new AW-139s.