The lack of public consultation on the future of the former hospital site in Old Town is concerning.
During the 2018 municipal election campaign, which took place just over a year after NOTL purchased the site, a number of residents asked candidates what their plans were for the property.
While the responses from candidates varied – from creating a facility to meet the needs of seniors that might incorporate space for programs geared toward children, to turning it into a parking lot – most candidates, including the current lord mayor, were adamant that there would be public consultation before any final decisions were made.
Several organizations and individuals from NOTL also put forward ideas on possible uses for the old hospital site, which included the construction of a public art gallery as well as creating a new theatre for the Shaw Festival. But the common theme at the time was that those suggestions should rightly be considered during a broader public consultation process on the site’s future.
That public consultation has not occurred. Yet the former doctors and nurses’ residence on the site has been demolished at taxpayers’ expense, apparently to make that portion of the property more attractive to prospective buyers, and council is engaging a fairness monitor as part of its plans to eventually sell the remainder of the former hospital site.
As part of that process, it is also preparing to issue a request for expression of interest (RFEI) to seek proposals and concepts for the property. All of this is being guided by a hospital site steering committee made up of town councillors and town staff. There is no public representation on the committee.
In a presentation to council at its March 22 meeting, town clerk Peter Todd explained that through the RFEI process, NOTL is “seeking responses that clearly demonstrate the nature of the proposed operations and use of the site” and how that would: benefit the local economy and town, enhance the heritage district and distinct character of Old Town, advance the town’s vision – “Working together to maintain our heritage, agriculture and distinct beauty while creating vibrant sustainable communities for all” – and contribute to the advancement of the town’s strategic plan.
Town staff will evaluate the responses received based on categories and weightings as outlined in the criteria of the RFEI, and a “selection committee will make recommendations to the town’s hospital site steering committee and/or council before proceeding further with the shortlisted proponents to the next stage.”
The process outlined to council does not include public consultation on the proposals prior to the development of the short list, nor was there any public consultation (to the best of my knowledge) on the types of projects that might be deemed an appropriate fit for the former hospital site in advance of the RFEI being finalized.
I will be dismayed, and angry, if residents are only informed about the plans for the former hospital site after they are finalized and construction is set to begin, as was the case with the new nursery school being built as an addition to the NOTL Community Centre.
It would also be reasonable, I believe, given that council has continued to impose annual municipal tax increases, despite not having an urgent need for the COVID-19 relief funding it received from the province this year, for taxpayers to be told what NOTL intends to do with the significant revenues that will almost certainly be realized through the sale of the former hospital site.