Parking given prominence in Ottawa Hospital's Civic expansion plan

The Ottawa Hospital insists it needs 24 hectares for a new Civic campus, but it appears one-third of that space is required for parking, according to a report obtained by CBC News.

Report obtained by CBC News shows 'hypothetical' layout with 6 large parking structures on Experimental Farm

This diagram from an April 2016 report prepared for The Ottawa Hospital shows approximately one-third of the 24-hectare expansion used for parking. (HDR Inc.)

The Ottawa Hospital insists it needs 24 hectares for a new Civic campus, but it appears the hospital wants a third of that space for parking.

According to an April 2016 report obtained by CBC News, the "hypothetical" layout for a new Civic campus for the Central Experimental Farm or Tunney's Pasture appears to include parking structures that take up at least as much land as actual medical buildings, and possibly more.

The report, prepared for the hospital by engineering consultants HDR, lays out the hospital's requirements for a new 24-hectare Civic, and reviews the four shortlisted locations.

Thirty-three per cent is dedicated to parking, which means 20 acres of Canada's most important agricultural land is literally going to be paved over ... Cue Joni Mitchell.-  Leslie Maitland, Coalition to Protect the Central Experimental Farm

All but one of those sites are on the Central Experimental Farm. The fourth site is Tunney's Pasture. 

The report calls for eight hectares for buildings, four hectares for "health and wellness" features, another "[eight hectares] of land for overall circulation, access, roadway and parking requirements" and another four to six hectares for future expansion.

'Test fit' drawings

However even at a quick glance, the "hypothetical test fit" drawings in the report appear to show parking structures that take up far more land than the medical buildings.

The "test fit" is meant to give an idea of how 24 hectares would be divvied up for a hospital campus, and a version is provided for all four locations. It is not an architectural design. But they do provide a stark visual of how much parking the hospital will require.

The proposal shows six substantial "green roof parking" structures, with a few smaller surface parking areas.

Renowned local architect Barry Padolsky has analyzed the layout. He estimates 19 per cent of the land will be used for medical and support buildings, while 33 per cent will go to parking. Roads will account for another nine per cent, while the remainder would become green space or be left uncommitted.

'Scary prospect'

"That's a scary prospect," said Leslie Maitland, chair of the Coalition to Protect the Central Experimental Farm.

She said the "hypothetical design" has two fundamental issues.

"One, it is a sprawling suburban design, more appropriate to the suburban areas of a large city. Secondly, 33 per cent is dedicated to parking, which means [eight hectares] of Canada's most important agricultural land is literally going to be paved over," she said.
Leslie Maitland, chair of the Coalition to Protect the Central Experimental Farm: 'Cue Joni Mitchell.' (CBC)

"Cue Joni Mitchell."

The behind-closed-doors decision to hand over 24 hectares of the Experimental Farm to the hospital has been controversial ever since former MP John Baird announced it in 2014.

The land sits on a key research field at the Experimental Farm — a National Historic Site and the location of the second-oldest research agricultural land in the world, which contributed to work that won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.

Earlier this year, a recently elected Liberal government told the hospital to re-evaluate the options for relocating the Civic and to consider the impact on research at the farm. The April report was a response to that request.

Then last month Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly asked the National Capital Commission to review all local federal lands for a possible location for a new Civic. Officials from the hospital are deferring questions on the report due to the NCC review.

Report details 'strengths, challenges'

Although the hospital report does not explicitly rank the four locations, the Experimental Farm location directly across from the existing Civic comes out ahead in the evaluation. There are 10 "strengths" identified for the site, and six "challenges."

By comparison, the Experimental Farm-Central site (across the street and just south of the existing Civic) has 13 challenges, while the Experimental Farm-Sir John Carling site has a whopping 20 challenges. Many of the issues with these two sites concern the expense of moving existing buildings, which the report says could cost in the "hundreds of millions of dollars."

Only nine strengths are attributed to the Tunney's option, with 11 challenges. One of them is that Tunney's has "no line of sight" to the existing Civic. It's not clear why that would be important, as the Carling Avenue land would revert to the city once the hospital is decommissioned.

And while the report acknowledges the Experimental Farm has national heritage designation, there is little new by way of the hospital's thinking on the four sites.

Proximity to Queensway, public transit

The criteria set by the site selection committee include proximity to the Queensway and public transit, although of the four shortlisted locations, only Tunney's Pasture is easily accessible to rapid transit. (The city doesn't have plans for light rail on Carling until after 2030.) The site also has to be in the core of the city, should take into account costs to tear down pre-existing buildings and have minimal impact on the community.

But it's the insistence that a new Civic needs 24 hectares that has critics up in arms.

Hospital officials have laid out their rationale for why a modern hospital needs to be on such an expanse of land, including a need for individual rooms — the plan is for 700 to 800 beds, up from the current 600 (which includes spaces at the Heart Institute) — separating out-patient services from the main hospital and the inclusion of more green space.

But, as critics point out, other cities have been able to build state-of-the-art hospitals on smaller sites.

McGill, Johns Hopkins used less space

The McGill University Health Centre has merged three hospitals and a research centre onto a 17-hectare campus, which encompasses 500 single-patient rooms. But it's planning to expand the number of beds on the same site. It also provides 1,500 public parking spaces underground, and another 1,200 for staff in an eight-storey parking tower.

The recently opened Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore is erected on a mere two hectares and includes two 12-storey patient towers, 560 private patient rooms, 33 operating theatres, and large adult and pediatric emergency departments. 

Maitland said her group has had good discussions with the hospital, but she still can't understand the rationale for 24 hectares when other hospitals can do with less.

"Why is it other hospitals seem to be able to do this on less than [24 hectares], but [the Civic] cannot?"