The public was finally given the chance to offer feedback on the site of the city’s new multibillion-dollar hospital on Monday night, and the people didn’t hold back.
A strong contingent of opponents to the current proposal, which identifies four prime sites for a new Civic campus, including three on lands owned by the Central Experimental Farm, erupted in applause each time hospital executives were challenged on their preferred choice of site during a lengthy question-and-answer session at the Ottawa Conference and Event Centre.
“In the end, everybody wants a hospital, everybody needs a hospital, but everybody loves the farm,” said Paul Johanis of the grassroots organization Protect the Central Experimental Farm. “What you’re hearing here (Monday) is the love of the farm.”
The hospital presented four site options it is considering — three across the street from the Civic campus on experimental farm land and one at Tunney’s Pasture — that were identified in a 2008 study that weighed the merits of a dozen potential locations across the core of the city.
But officials vowed to reconvene their site selection committee after several other options were suggested by the public, including the parcel of National Capital Commission land currently being coveted by competing bids for the Ottawa Senators’ new home at LeBreton Flats and a federal government complex on Booth Street.
“Looking forward, we’re encouraged to hear there will be a review of these decisions,” said Johanis. “The options under consideration seem fairly limited, though we hear (now) that other options are going to be re-examined and opened up, so we’re encouraged to hear that.”
Dozens of people wearing “Save C.E.F” buttons applauded as questions were raised about accessibility concerns for people with disabilities; concerns from a “dismayed” heritage community wondering why the experimental farm was continually “targeted for development”; or questions from a retired Agriculture Canada scientist who questioned the new hospital’s impact on important food sciences research at the facility.
“People are motivated to come and participate, really because they have strong feelings about their beliefs,” said Johanis. “The ideas we’re hearing for the hospital are great, it’s just that you don’t have to crush a very significant and important part of our green space, of our heritage, of the scientific research being done for the farmers across Canada, to achieve it.
“It’s so wrong to set it up that you pit health care against these other values — we shouldn’t be having this debate.”
Others simply expressed their annoyance that it has taken this long to open the floor to public debate. “If we had this discussion a long time ago,” said Johanis, “we wouldn’t be here now.”