Tunney's Pasture picked as NCC's top site for new Civic hospital

After reviewing 12 parcels of federal land, the National Capital Commission review panel says Tunney's Pasture is its recommended site for a new Civic campus of The Ottawa Hospital.

Tunney's never a 'top-ranked-site,' hospital reiterates in statement

Tunney's Pasture campus is situated on a 49-hectare site filled with government workers. The NCC believes it's the best site for the new Civic campus of The Ottawa Hospital. (CBC)

The National Capital Commission's board of directors will recommend the western half of Tunney's Pasture to Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly as the site of The Ottawa Hospital's new Civic campus.

The vote — taken at Thursday's NCC board meeting — was not unanimous. Local board members Bob Plamondon and Brian Coburn voted against the recommendation. Board members Kay Stanley, Michael Poliwoda and Denys Rivard abstained.

Stanley was the only one of the six-member NCC review panel who did not agree with the Tunney's recommendation. However, she opted to abstain rather than voting against the plan in order not to hamper the project. 

The board will officially recommend the site to Joly in the next week, after which she is expected to offer it for a nominal fee to the hospital. The final decision on where to locate the Civic rests with the hospital, but there is a limited supply of free land available in the core of the city.

Tunney's not a 'top-ranked site,' hospital says

In a statement released after the decision Thursday The Ottawa Hospital said Tunney's was not among its "top-ranked sites." The hospital had been looking to rebuild the Civic on 24 hectares of Central Experimental Farm lands, right across the street from its existing location.

The statement also referred to "concerns regarding access delays due to traffic volume heading north on Parkdale Avenue from the Queensway." The hospital is also worried about how long it would take to demolish and redevelop the western portion of Tunney's — which is 20 hectares — and who would pay to demolish existing buildings.

However, the choice of Tunney's Pasture will be sure to please the vocal contingent that wanted any new hospital to preserve public green space and, in particular, experimental farm fields.

Leslie Maitland, co-chair of the Coalition to Protect the Central Experimental Farm, is sure to be pleased with the NCC recommendation to put a new Civic at Tunney's Pasture. (CBC/Ashley Burke)

Last May, Joly asked the NCC to review all federally owned land in the national capital region to determine a location for The Ottawa Hospital expansion of the Civic campus. 

The NCC came up with a list of 12 possible locations, although some are so far from the core of the city that few believed they were ever seriously in the running.

Included in the dozen sites are the four sites the hospital considered earlier this year at the request of the federal government: three on the Central Experimental Farm and the fourth at Tunney's Pasture.

The NCC's panel oversaw the review that included hospital officials and planning experts and looked at everything from the hospital's requirements, to transportation and road access, to parking needs.

Public weighed in

There was a public meeting about the site selection in September attended by more than 400 people, and more than 7,600 people responded to a survey about a possible location for the hospital expansion.

NCC staff said the public was concerned about access to the site for both emergency vehicles and residents, as well as how it would be integrated into the city's transportation system.

The panel included NCC CEO Mark Kristmanson, NCC board members Michael Pankiw and Kay Stanley, as well as Eha Naylor, Vivian Manasc and Julian Smith, all members of the NCC's advisory committee on planning, design and realty. 

Opponents feared losing research land

Ever since former Conservative cabinet minister John Baird made the surprise announcement two years ago that he would hand over 24 hectares of the Central Experimental Farm for a new Civic campus, the issue has been mired in controversy.

Opponents of the plan panned it for taking over historical agricultural research land, for the amount of surface parking, for its distance from rapid transit and for being hatched behind closed doors.

Supporters of the original site — including many in the medical community, as some local politicians — have argued that 24 hectares is optimal for a modern hospital, and say the site across Carling Avenue from the current Civic is the perfect location from a patient-access point of view.

They also argued that the farm property across from the existing Civic would provide the ideal transition from the current hospital campus to a new building.

Why Tunney's?

According to the review, the key strengths of the Tunney's site included:

  • Its ideal shape and size.
  • Its proximity to a future LRT station.
  • Its "great city-building" potential.
  • Its proximity to the urban core.
  • Its good road and highway access.
  • Possible collaboration with Health Canada, which is located at Tunney's. 

Some weaknesses included having to move federal offices and the potential cost of demolishing existing building.

A previously approved master plan for Tunney's Pasture passed by the last Conservative government in 2014 will have to be revisited.

That plan called for the western half of Tunney's — the very land that's now being recommended for a new hospital — to be redeveloped, and possibly sold. There were no long-term plans to house federal workers on that section of the site, according to the NCC.

The NCC originally identified 12 possible parcels of federal land where a new Civic campus could be built. (National Capital Commission)