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OPINION: New life for old hospital

George Mathewson Sarnia got rid of a millstone last week when city council agreed to sell the Sarnia General Hospital site to five local investors for $1,000.
Five local investors are planning to turn the old Sarnia General Hospital into a ‘health campus.’ Journal Photo

George Mathewson

Sarnia got rid of a millstone last week when city council agreed to sell the Sarnia General Hospital site to five local investors for $1,000.

Sarnia owns the land but Bluewater Health owns the building, which has been a boarded-up eyesore for three years now.

If all the conditions were met the end result would look like this:

A former hospital stripped down and substantially reduced in size, then rebuilt with new mechanical and electrical systems, a new exterior look and proper parking.

The refurbished building would be called the Sarnia General Health Campus, offering various health services from one central location, close to existing hospital and EMS services.

Tenants might include local health agency offices, clinics, pharmacies, etc.

So, who benefits from the deal?

Presumably, and hopefully, the five partners. Charles Dally, Alex Jongsma, Mark Lumley, Kenn Poore and Marty Raaymakers are smart business guys with roots in the area who see an opportunity in the growing health services sector.

Each of the partners brings something to the table, including expertise in real estate, environmental, engineering, building development and retail. They already collectively own or operate more than 30 buildings including residential, commercial, retail and agricultural holdings.

Certainly, the project is good for the immediate area.

The group says it intends to increase the building’s “compatibility” with neighbours by surrounding it with landscape buffers and park-like landscaping, which would be a refreshing departure from the battle waged between Bluewater Health and homeowners when the hospital was redeveloped.

A vibrant health care campus surrounded by greenspace and gardens could boost residential property values in the area, and have an equally positive impact on nearby Mitton Village.

And taxpayers? Sarnia is getting $1,000 for land with a book value of more than $1 million, Coun. Terry Burrell pointed out last week.

But Ontario has shirked its responsibility of paying for demolition and cleanup of the site – estimated at $3 million to $7 million – so the city is stuck with it.

Under the deal, the investors cover those costs, reimbursing the city when the work is done.

The public benefits as well from Bluewater Health no longer paying for ongoing maintenance, which has already soaked up more than $1 million.

It’s a good deal, and it all sounds promising, but it is far from done.

The offer is conditional until next March, allowing the investors time to determine if they can actually make the numbers work.

Building and soil inspections must be completed, cleanup costs determined and rezoning and commercial leases worked out.

But if the stars align properly, construction would begin in the third quarter of 2015 with Sarnia’s new health campus ready for occupancy one year later.

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