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Civic Hospital to be rebuilt on Experimental Farm property

"The Ottawa Hospital is getting 60 acres of federal property to rebuild its Civic campus on Carling Avenue, a long-term project the hospital’s chief executive hopes will eventually lead to a major realignment of health care in Ottawa.

“The timelines, historically, would be beyond a decade at best,” said Dr. Jack Kitts. “We couldn’t plan in a vacuum with no land.”

The arrangement would be similar to that for the Queensway-Carleton Hospital, a provincial hospital built on land leased from the federal government. The NCC will likely charge $1 a year for a 99-year agreement. The exact property involved will depend on detailed plans that have not yet been made, but it’ll be at the northwest corner of the Central Experimental Farm.

None of the existing Agriculture Canada buildings along Carling will be affected and neither will the parkway or bike path running through the site, said John Baird, the Ottawa West-Nepean MP and federal minister responsible for Ottawa, who made the announcement alongside Kitts and NCC chief executive Mark Kristmanson.

Baird, a Conservative, made a point of saying twice that the federal decision about the land isn’t meant to stampede the Liberal provincial government into anything.

“No government in Ontario, Liberal or Conservative, could afford to build a new facility right away, right now,” Baird said. “We’re not trying to set them up. This is one of the only times when we’re only saying nice things behind each other’s back.”

The hospital has been hoping to rebuild its Civic campus for years, with a study finding that the land across Carling from the current complex is the most attractive spot. Other options included a spot in the Greenbelt in Nepean, but the transfer of this federal land means the major hospital will stay relatively close to downtown. The NCC’s Kristmanson said that’s important for a region whose core is becoming more densely populated.

The hospital, Kristmanson said, is “an important legacy in the heart of Canada’s capital.”

The decision was made without consulting the Friends of the Farm, a group of volunteers who champion the Central Experimental Farm. They’re not necessarily against it, said president Eric Jones, but there’s been no real public discussion.

“It’s particularly concerning that a national historic site will be divided up without any debate, as far as I know,” he said. “I think the difficulty is to demonstrate that there is a line beyond which they will not go. What is that line? It’s kind of difficult to define at this point.”

Periodic reviews of the farm and its usefulness to Agriculture Canada have never concluded that it’s 60 acres too big, he said. Indeed, in 2008, Agriculture Canada flatly refused to consider the idea of a new hospital on the property because it’s incompatible with the farm’s historic status.

On Monday, Kitts said the hospital and the farm have scientific research as a common heritage. Kristmanson said the new hospital will incorporate natural features and high design standards. Baird said the farm will keep using the land till the hospital is ready to use it.

There’s no immediate timetable for the reconstruction project, and no guaranteed funding for a new facility that could cost $2.5 billion or more. Traditionally, Kitts said, the province pays 90 per cent of the costs of such a new building, with the hospital responsible for the other 10 per cent and, more importantly, all the costs of fitting the new facility up. It’ll take a huge fundraising campaign to pay for it.

The property, about six per cent of the Central Experimental Farm, is to be transferred from Agriculture Canada to the National Capital Commission to hold for the newest and most advanced health centre in Eastern Ontario. But not necessarily the largest. That’s because the current Civic campus includes clinics for routine treatments the new Civic might not do, said Kitts.

“We do a lot of primary and secondary care here that hopefully will be picked up in the community and by community hospitals,” Kitts said. “So I think, if things were to work out the way I’d envision it, the new campus may be a bit smaller, because there’d be more expansion at the Queensway (Carleton) and the Montfort and the other community hospitals and in the community. So it’s hard to say, and it’s early days, but I don’t see it being bigger.”

The new Civic would do tertiary and quaternary care: extremely specialized surgeries like organ transplants, along with groundbreaking experimental treatments.

When it’s done, in 15 to 20 years, the hospital would depart the existing Civic campus on the north side of Carling. That could be renovated for some other health-care use, the way the old Riverside Hospital became a centre for specialized clinics and day surgeries, or it could be torn down.

“I think it’s too early to say what this could become in the future, but that would be something that would be planned by a whole host of people with the best interests of the community in mind,” Kitts said, standing in a meeting room in one of the Civic’s many outlying buildings — a former nurses’ residence long since converted into medical and administrative space.

The Civic campus is the oldest major health facility in Ottawa and the residence repurposing is typical of what’s been done to its innards over the decades. It’s a rambling collection of old, inefficient buildings that have been put through a lot as the hospital has tried to keep them current.

“I would say that 10 years from now and beyond will be a time when the Civic hospital will need to have some significant investment, and hopefully it won’t be in an old building, it will be in a new one,” Kitts said.

The Civic is adequate, he said, but it would never be built in its current form from scratch. Among other things, you’d never construct a new hospital with two or three patients in the same room, a formerly common practice that’s bad for controlling the spread of germs and one that’s practically impossible to renovate away.

In the meantime, though, already planned projects on the Civic campus will continue, including a $200-million expansion of the University of Ottawa Heart Institute there. It’ll be needed long before the Civic could be rebuilt, said Graham Bird, a Heart Institute board member who attended the announcement."

Source: David Reevely, Ottawa Citizen. November 3, 2014.