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OPINION: Our old hospital in General terms

A multi-party logjam that turned the once-proud Sarnia General Hospital building into a derelict eyesore may be about to break.
The fate of the old Sarnia General Hospital was in limbo for nearly three years. Glenn Ogilvie file Photo.

A multi-party logjam that turned the once-proud Sarnia General Hospital building into a derelict eyesore may be about to break.

With a prospective buyer in the wings, Sarnia council voted last week to begin a process that could finally see the city-owned land sold and redeveloped.

It couldn’t come at a better time.

Sarnia owns the ground but Bluewater Health owns the empty building, which for three years now has been inching toward Detroit-like urban desolation.

Just the minimum upkeep and security has cost Bluewater Health $1 million already, money that could have gone to something useful, like healing patients. And the bills mount each month.

Sarnia opted not to put the property on the market in 2011 because it was waiting to hear what kind of cash Ontario would offer for decommissioning and demolition.

Estimates to clear the property run from $3 million to $7 million. With Ontario prepared to ante up just $75,000 thus far it’s a small wonder things had stalled.

Bluewater Health's board of directors initiated the breakthrough when it asked council in April to change tack and begin shopping the land again.

“We need and are anxious to find a shared solution as quickly as possible,” chair Stephane Thiffeault told councillors.

Meanwhile, an unnamed group has quietly expressed interest in the site.

Mayor Mike Bradley wouldn’t say who’s involved but describes it as a community-based offer from business people with credibility.

It’s no secret three local agencies - Canadian Mental Health, Community Care Access Centre and North Lambton Community Health Centre – have been nosing around for shared office space.

Whoever the potential investors, they are apparently interested in a project that would require partial demolition of the building complex, the oldest wing of which dates to 1929.

The original hospital, a lovely old thing with ivy-covered turrets dating to 1896, was pulled down in the 1950s.

City staff are now preparing a report for June 23 outlining the options for redevelopment. Despite a potential buyer, council will probably go the “request for proposals” route.

An RFP would give all interested parties a chance to bid on the land and the city greater control of the process.

With any luck, the land bounded by Mitton, George, Mackenzie and Essex will be reborn soon into a productive city block again.

 - George Mathewson

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