Plans to transform part of old Royal Vic into McGill University academic centre nears final stage

McGill University’s plans to redevelop the old Royal Victoria Hospital are nearing the final stages of approval as school officials look to create an environmentally friendly academic centre that preserves the site’s 130-year history.

Public consultations start Wednesday as university seeks city approval

The Royal Vic site has cost the MUHC about $7.5 million annually to maintain. The new project, if approved, will cost about $700 million. (Submitted by Diamond Schmitt Lemay Michaud Architects)

McGill University's plans to redevelop the old Royal Victoria Hospital are nearing the final stages of approval as school officials look to create an environmentally friendly academic centre that preserves the site's 130-year history.

The next step is to sell these plans to the public. Consultations are scheduled to begin next week in Montreal before any zoning changes can be approved by city council. 

"We have an opportunity to reinvent — transform — this part of the site and we have a project to upgrade this heritage building of great value," said Pierre Major, the project's executive director.

Construction on the original hospital began in 1891 on the slope of Mount Royal, just steps from McGill University's main campus and overlooking the city's downtown. 

It served as a medical facility until about six years ago when it moved to the McGill University Health Centre's new Glen site — leaving the Royal Vic to tower over Montreal largely unused. 

McGill University says the campus has always been accessible to the public and the new space will be too, with lecture halls and space for events. (Submitted by Diamond Schmitt Lemay Michaud Architects)

McGill has an opportunity to renovate 15 per cent of the site, and preliminary designs aim to protect its history while allowing for modern labs and research facilities to be built from the ground up, said Major.

Views of Mount Royal won't be blocked

There will be green roofs and green spaces as the university looks to incorporate a range of eco-friendly features such as geothermal heating, Major said. 

"The original buildings of 1893 will be restored and we will have a new construction behind that will not be higher than the original building," he said.

Views to the mountain won't be hindered and McGill will be able to develop much-needed learning and research space, he said.

There will be interior atriums and exposed facades mixed into the public space that anybody is able to access, McGill says in a statement. The plans also include walkways and eateries as well as public lecture and event spaces.

It will accommodate up to 3,000 daily users, including staff, visitors and students. The academic side will be focused on public policy and sustainability sciences.

Looking for approval

The university is looking to begin demolition and decontamination in 2023. Project completion is set for 2028.

However, all this hinges on getting full approval from the provincial and municipal governments.

The old Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal has been largely vacant for six years. (Rowan Kennedy/CBC)

Next, the Office de consultation publique de Montréal (OCPM) will host the first public consultation on Wednesday and a report will be filed with the city council. From there, it will be up to council to approve two key zoning changes that will allow the site to be redeveloped.

Then the government of Quebec must approve the New Vic Project's business plan before the Ministry of Higher Education can release its $475-million contribution. The school will cover the rest, bringing the total cost up to about $700 million.

Developing plans for the Royal Vic date back to when it was transitioning out of being a hospital.

In 2015, McGill launched a call for tenders to conduct an $8-million feasibility study, partially financed by Quebec, that assessed the technical, financial and heritage-related challenges of transforming the site. 

The Royal Vic site has cost the MUHC about $7.5 million annually to maintain. A portion of the facility has been used to house homeless people during the pandemic.

The proposed project has raised concerns with groups like Les amis de la montagne, which works to protect Mount Royal.

"We do not want the Royal Vic to become an extension of downtown. We want it to be an extension of the mountain, into downtown," said the group's executive director, Hélène Panaïoti.

She said McGill has listened to those concerns, but the Peter-McGill Community Council feels ignored. That group is focused on improving life in the neighbourhood near the hospital.

"They're asking us basically, 'Do you like the colour of the walls?' But we never get to say what we want exactly on this site," said Maryse Chapdelaine, a project manager for the council.

with files from Rowan Kennedy


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