A new mental health facility on the historic Riverview lands in Coquitlam, B.C. will open in 2019, replacing the aging Burnaby Centre for Mental Health and Addiction. 

B.C. Premier John Horgan took part in the ceremonial groundbreaking on Wednesday, declaring that the project exemplifies the provincial government's commitment to mental health and addictions treatment as the province grapples with an opioid crisis.

"This location can be forever thought of as a place of wellness, a place of healing for all of British Columbians," said Horgan.

The project, however, was in the planning stages long before the NDP took office. Planning talks for a new use of the old hospital site began in 2015.

The B.C. Liberals even campaigned on the new facility during the 2017 provincial election, claiming that funding had already been set aside for the project.

"The previous government got this ball rolling, we're going to keep it rolling and deliver the services people deserve and expect," said Horgan.

Riverview Lands

The Riverview hospital in Coquitlam closed in 2012 after almost a century of use. Mayor Richard Stewart is calling for the site to be rededicated as a mental health and addictions rehabilitation facility. (City of Coquitlam)

The new $101 million centre will replace the aging Burnaby facility, and will have 105 beds. That means there will be an increase of just 11 beds once it's completed in 2019.

Horgan said the NDP considered scaling up the project once it took office, but ultimately decided against it.

"Rather than delay it by scaling it up, we're going to build this, and then we're gonna to build more here and elsewhere in British Columbia."

Patients welcome new centre

Patients at the Burnaby centre — which is more than six decades old — said 11 new beds, while admittedly a small increase, are a step in the right direction.

"It's not easy to get this off the ground. This project has been in the works for quite some time, and the fact that they're actually starting it is amazing," said patient Curtis Jameson.

Diane Gottselig, who is also undergoing treatment at the Burnaby centre, says older buildings can have an adverse impact on the mental health of patients.

Diane Gottselig

Diane Gottselig, a patient at the Burnaby Centre for Mental Health and Addictions, says new facilities can help boost morale of staff and help patients recover. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

"It's somewhere you wouldn't want to stay at, the Burnaby centre," she said. "It's so old and some of the conditions, some of the rooms are so small."

"You just feel a lot more warmer and just more at home in a new building, it gives you a chance to be more happy with the staff, because the staff is in a better mood."

Riverview lands

In its 100-year history, the Riverview lands have been home to several facilities, most notably a collection of psychiatric hospitals and asylums.

The facilities were closed in 2012, with many buildings and structures on the lot remaining empty. Some are considered heritage assets.

Richard Stewart

Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart stands in front of the lot where the new mental health facility will be constructed. He says much of Riverview could be repurposed to house similar facilities. (Mike Zimmer/CBC)

For the last year, Coquitlam mayor Richard Stewart has pushed for some to be repurposed, suggesting that they could be utilized as makeshift treatment centres for people battling addiction.

"Fentanyl has made it a game changer, and the government has to respond quickly," said Stewart.

"We realize that these things take time, but we're hopeful there will be announcements in the coming months of an expansion."

The province says many of the older buildings contain asbestos, and could be torn down in the future in favour of modern treatment centres.