Canada

With approvals, construction will soon begin on first phase of Civic development

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With site plan approvals from Ottawa council this week and the National Capital Commission last week, shovels could be in the ground for the first phase of the new $2.8-billion Civic hospital campus as soon as next spring.

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Work won’t begin on the main hospital site until 2024, but construction of the 2,500-space parking garage off Carling Avenue west of Preston Street should start in the spring, said hospital CEO Cameron Love.

After weeks of sometimes heated debate about the project’s impact on green space, trees, traffic, heritage and transportation, the project has moved to a new phase: implementation.

Many details, notably the selection of contractors and connecting the LRT to the site, have yet to be worked out, but the approvals represent a clearing of the major hurdles to a modern Civic hospital, which is expected to open in 2028.

With the original Civic hospital building straining at the seams, Love said the past 18 months have made it clear why a new Civic is so badly needed in Ottawa.

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“We are finally at a phase where we are able to build a world-class health system for patients and families for generations to come,” he said. “If people didn’t understand the importance of health care prior to the pandemic, they certainly do now.”

It has been a long road and one marked by controversy. Planning for a new hospital to replace the century-old Civic at the corner of Carling and Parkdale avenues began decades ago. Selection of a hospital site became a political football before multiple levels of government agreed on the current site, at the eastern corner of the Central Experimental Farm.

The first part of the multi-year construction project that will begin to take shape — the four-storey parking garage — has been a focus of some of that controversy. Opponents say its construction will require trees to be uprooted and it should not be located beside Dow’s Lake, part of the UNESCO World Heritage site Rideau Canal. The parkade will take up part of Queen Juliana Park. Hospital plans include building green space on the parkade’s roof, including a tennis club that will be displaced by hospital construction.

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The hospital has committed to replacing every tree that has to be taken down for construction with five new trees. Love said the hospital is also planning to lift and relocate full-sized trees and use wood from those that can’t be saved, for art. The hospital is consulting with an Indigenous advisory group about tree removal, tree planting and which trees can and should be moved, among other things, he said.

The start of work on the parking garage will mark the official beginning of construction on the site, but some work is already underway. That includes work to demolish a cafeteria designed by renowned architect Hart Massey, the former Sir John Carling building’s west annex, something that heritage advocates had lobbied to be saved.

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The annex was left intact when the main federal government building was demolished in 2014. Love said components of its unusual design will be reflected in the new hospital.

In coming months, further consultations and detailed planning will continue on a number of aspects of the project. Some of that design work includes building an accessible covered walkway between the LRT and hospital and consulting with people from around the region about transportation and access to the new site.

As for concerns about loss of green space to the hospital, Love said TOH is building a world-class health centre — the region’s only trauma and tertiary referral centre — in the core of the city using less space than similar constructions around the world.

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“We are going to create a spectacular hospital for future generations. The land that it is on is in the core of Ottawa. It allows us to integrate with green space. From a wellness perspective, green space is essential for patients and families,” he said, adding the project will maintain bike paths, walking spaces and access to parks and amenities around Dow’s Lake. He called the project the “best of all worlds.”

When construction on the main 650-bed hospital begins, there will be between 1,500 and 2,000 workers on the site most days.

Getting closer to construction is a milestone, he said.

“It is really exciting for the entire organization,” said Love. “It is about a world-class building, but the bigger piece for us is how this sets the stage for how we provide world-class health care for the next 100 years.”

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