Nfld. & Labrador

How do you solve a problem like the Grace? Neighbours want action on vacant eyesore

The Grace Hospital shut down in 2000 but the residence building is still standing, and collecting graffiti.

St. John's Coun. Jonathan Galgay says he's optimistic about action after minister's response

The Grace Hospital nurses' residence has been empty for years. It collects graffiti in the west end of St. John's. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

Barry Imhoff has been living in the west end of St. John's for more than 35 years.

For about half that time, some of the most prominent buildings in his neighbourhood have been vacant Grace Hospital properties.

Now, 17 years since they were decommissioned, and about 10 years since government moved to tear down the hospital, residents are asking for action on the one building that remains: the old nurses' residence.

A pigeon perches in a broken window at the Grace Hospital nurses' residence. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

"In my lifetime, and I'm getting close to 70, I would like to see something done," Imhoff said from the abandoned site on Thursday.

The provincial government said it opted not to tear down the residence in 2007 because it was exploring alternate uses for the building at that time.

The property has sat so long collecting graffiti, danger signs and broken glass that Imhoff says the urban blight is practically part of the neighbourhood. He thinks that should change.

"It's prime property … It's crying for some sort of development," he said.

Time for action: Galgay

St. John's Coun. Jonathan Galgay agrees.

This week, he wrote a letter to the provincial government and Transportation Minister Al Hawkins asking that they put together a plan for the property.

Graffiti on the Grace Hospital's nurses' residence. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

"I have asked the province to actually put in writing for the people of St. John's … who have tolerated this embarrassment for so many years to let them know what the plan of attack is here," Galgay said Friday.

"It really is an eyesore for the neighbourhood."

Galgay said in its current state, the site has been a home for vandalism — but said it is "prime real estate" that could be made into affordable housing, a green space or other development.

"I've seen people who have actually been squatting on the property … People have broken in. It's infested with rodents and birds. And it's a real fire trap," he said.

His understanding is it would cost the province around $2 million to demolish the building, so it's understandable government needs to explore its options, but Galgay said it's been a long time coming.

Galgay got a response from Hawkins on Thursday night and said he's optimistic from that conversation that some sort of action will be taken.

Replacement plans?

As for the future of the site, Galgay said it would need public consultations to come up with any specific plans, but ideas include green space, walking trails, affordable housing and small businesses.

Imhoff would like to see some sort of mix in the area: retail, affordable housing, condominiums.

While out walking with her dog, Lynn Guppy, another resident of the neighbourhood, agreed that something needs to happen.

"I don't like seeing vacant buildings in the neighbourhood. I think they are really risky for arson and … you don't know what's going to happen."

Lynn Guppy takes her dog, Buckley, for a walk around the old Grace Hospital property. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

However, Guppy is not too hopeful that the neighbourhood will be getting news about any future use for the property any time soon.

"I guess we're just pretty pessimistic that anything is going to happen with the vacant buildings."

With files from Meghan McCabe