Ottawa·Analysis

Let's get some answers before we dig in our heels on the Civic campus question

The Ottawa Hospital's board of governors voted unanimously Monday night to reject Tunney's Pasture as the site for its future Civic campus — which is surprising, since so many questions remain unanswered.

After only 4 days, Ottawa Hospital board nixes Tunney's Pasture site

The Ottawa Hospital's board of governors rejected the National Capital Commission's recommendation that a new Civic campus be built at Tunney's Pasture. (Danny Globerman/CBC News)

That didn't take long.

Four days after the National Capital Commission recommended that a new Civic campus for the Ottawa Hospital be located on Tunney's Pasture, the hospital's board of governors voted unanimously Monday night to reject that choice.

The final decision on where to put the Civic always rested with the hospital, but it's surprising that the board would rebuff Tunney's so quickly, especially when so many questions remain unanswered.

In a statement released by chair James McCracken on Tuesday afternoon, the board cited access, costs and timelines as their reasons for rejecting Tunney's.

It's not that these aren't valid concerns, however. It's that we appear so far from knowing the details of any deal.

On access

"Given that the Ottawa Hospital has over a million patient visits annually, we cannot impose a greater access burden on our patients and their families who arrive at our hospital by car," the board says in its statement.

A "greater access burden" how? The Tunney's Pasture site recommended by the NCC is more or less the size the hospital was looking for. There should be plenty of room for parking.

Board members do not believe the road system near Tunney's supports the traffic associated with the hospital

The current site is accessible by Holland Avenue, Parkdale Avenue and Carling Avenue (with some dipsy-doodling on back roads). The hospital's first choice, on the Central Experimental Farm, would be accessible by the same roads.

We cannot impose a greater access burden on our patients and their families who arrive at our hospital by car.- An excerpt from the Ottawa Hospital board of governors' statement

Tunney's would be accessible by Holland, Parkdale and Scott Street. And it would be located on the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway, which is one more major access road than exists at the current site — or at the proposed Experimental Farm location.

According to NCC officials, the hospital did not submit any traffic reports during the months when the commission was reviewing various land options for a new Civic.

And last week, the Ottawa Paramedic Service said that, while they have some caveats because it's so early in the process, they didn't anticipate major problems for emergency vehicles needing access to Tunney's. 

The National Capital Commission recommends building a new Civic campus of the Ottawa Hospital on the western half of the Tunney's Pasture complex (the area outlined in white). (NCC)

On costs

"The costs of demolishing buildings, displacing public servants and preparing the land at Tunney's Pasture are significant," said the statement. "We cannot impose this financial burden on our fundraising community that has supported us for decades, or ask taxpayers to step into their place."

Of course cost is a concern for the hospital. Would the federal government pick up any of the costs of demolishing the buildings currently on Tunney's? No one knows yet. And it's unclear whether anyone has asked, as no one from the hospital's board has met with Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly's office.

As for "displacing public servants," there was already a long-term plan to move the 4,000 public servants working on the segment of Tunney's in question. So would the hospital have to pay to relocate them? It's unclear.

And Tunney's is already zoned for a hospital, which saves some time and money.

All this is to say that there's plenty we don't know at this point about what it would cost to build at any of these sites.

On timelines

"We cannot support an option that would jeopardize completing a new Civic campus in the next 10 years," stated the board.

In its April 2016 report to the federal government, the hospital stated its target to start construction on a new Civic campus in the fall of 2021, and finish by the summer of 2026. (It's right there on Page 2, in a table titled "Major Milestone.")

But in three other places in the same report, the timeline for building and completing a new Civic is 10 to 15 years. 

The NCC estimates the process will take 15 to 20 years, and believes a 10-year timeline is optimistic no matter what site is chosen.

The current Civic campus of the Ottawa Hospital, seen from the Central Experimental Farm. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

It's great we're having this argument

The argument over where a new Civic should go seems to be developing into a split between two groups: those who believe the hospital knows best where it should move, and those who see finding a home for a new hospital through a city-building and urban planning lens.

There are those who don't mind if a new hospital is built on the Experimental Farm — and people who want it anywhere but.

It's actually a productive argument to be having. We should have started it years ago. The more we hash out our views and passions, as well as the plan's details and considerations, the more likely we are to be hit with fewer surprises down the road.

But right now we're in danger of digging in our heels, taking sides and making decisions without all the facts. Everyone seems so sure about their choice, but how can they be when we still don't know so many of the crucial details?

Yes, we should all voice our opinions, but let's make sure those opinions are based in real evidence. And let also try not to pretend any one group has the perfect solution. Because if there was one, we wouldn't be having this discussion at all.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Joanne Chianello

City affairs analyst

Joanne Chianello is an award-winning journalist and CBC Ottawa's city affairs analyst. You can email her at joanne.chianello@cbc.ca or tweet her at @jchianello.

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