25 August 2023

Now a COVID relic, Garran Surge Centre is finally coming down

| Ian Bushnell
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The $14 million Garran Surge Centre served as a vaccination and testing centre during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The Garran Surge Centre will be gone by the end of the year under a tender released for a contractor to “demobilise” the facility that came to be a symbol of the COVID-19 pandemic in the ACT.

Built in just 36 days at a cost of $14 million in 2020, the facility on the Garran Oval near Canberra Hospital was meant to be a temporary COVID-19 emergency department run by Canberra-based Aspen Medical to bolster an overwhelmed health system.

However, it was never used for that purpose and instead morphed into a vaccination, testing and walk-in clinic.

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An ACT Government spokesperson said that in its nearly three years of operation the Garran Surge Centre proved its worth, conducting more than 240,000 PCR tests, countless free rapid antigen tests, more than 158,000 COVID-19 vaccinations and handling about 2500 presentations to the COVID-19 Walk-in Clinic.

“The ACT Government is proud of the approach it took, with the incredible support of our frontline healthcare workers, to respond quickly to the emerging COVID-19 threat to our community,” the spokesperson said.

The centre closed on 28 February this year, and Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said the students at the nearby Garran Primary School could look forward to “getting their oval back”.

But funding of $8 million for the dismantling of the 1700 square metres of demountable structure and rehabilitation of the oval was only provided in the June budget.

The queue at the Garran COVID-19 testing centre.

Queueing for COVID-19 tests in December 2021: the centre provided 240,000 PCR tests and countless rapid tests over nearly three years. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

The government spokesperson said work would get under way in September, and the structure is expected to be fully removed by the end of the year, weather permitting. Work to remediate the oval would start soon after.

The centre was said to have been built so it could be dismantled and stored in 24 shipping containers with a barcode system allowing it to be retained as an asset and rapidly reassembled if ever required again.

But the tender does not mention any storage system or facility, only that much of it will be recycled.

The spokesperson said the government investigated several options, including reuse within the ACT Government, donation of the facility to an NGO, another government or charity, or recycling the facility.

“The outcome of these initial investigations identified the recycling and reuse of materials option as the preferred option, as it presented the best value for money for the Canberra community,” the spokesperson said.

Salvaged material would either be sold locally, reused or recycled where possible.

“This was identified as the most cost and time-effective way to remove the Garran Surge Centre,” the spokesperson said.

“Repurposing of the facility would require substantial investment in storage, transport and modifications for repurpose.”

Garran Surge Centre, COVID-19, Coronavirus, ACT Health, nurse Photo: Michelle Kroll

Inside the Garran Surge Centre. It was designed to be a temporary COVID-19 emergency department. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Canberra Health Services has already removed medical equipment and supplies for reuse elsewhere.

When the feared swamping of hospital services failed to happen, critics called the surge centre a white elephant but the government stood by its decision to build the facility.

“The Garran Surge Centre was an incredibly important part of the ACT’s COVID response and received national recognition as an essential asset for that time and as an enabler for nation-leading health services,” the spokesperson said.

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The local firm that built the surge centre, Manteena, has been appointed by the ACT Government to oversee its deconstruction.

The tender says the subcontractor will be responsible for properly dismantling all services, architectural and structural components and having all items sorted in source-separated bins on site.

“The goal is to maximise materials recycled by reporting on the percentage of materials and weight of each waste stream salvaged and/or sent to landfill,” it says.

The contractor will also have to demolish the building by hand, not mechanically.

The tender closes on 14 September.

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Linda Seaniger5:46 pm 26 Aug 23

It’s an asset, it should be on sold the purchaser can remove it at their expense.

Given the IFR has always been a fraction of a percent, this was always a waste of money.

Here is something the opposition could get their teeth into. But I guess even if they do, it will just be a whinge, rather than tapping into what people actually think about it.

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