After months of controversy and deliberation, the new Civic super-hospital has found its future home at the former site of the Sir John Carling Building on the northeastern edge of the Central Experimental Farm.
Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly approved the site Dec. 2. She said in a statement that she’s asked federal officials to “make all the necessary preparations to make this land available as the future location.”
The site was home to the headquarters of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada from 1967 to 2010. The 11-storey building was demolished in 2014.
The decision represents a blunt rejection of a recommendation recently made by the National Capital Commission, which identified a site at Tunney’s Pasture, near the corner of Scott and Holland streets, as the best location after months of study and public input.
Tunney’s Pasture — currently home to Health Canada — was promptly rejected by hospital officials and other stakeholders who cited a host of problems with the location, including poor patient access on congested streets, potential delays in the building process, and high costs.
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson and local Liberal MPs and MPPs agreed that the Tunney’s Pasture location is heavily flawed, supported the hospital’s rejection of the site and unanimously supported the Sir John Carling choice.
The site was selected because it is centrally located and accessible by a highway ramp at Rochester Street. It’s also walking distance from the Trillium Line O-Train station on Carling Avenue and close to the current Civic hospital site jut to the west on Carling.
The chosen property is one of four sites originally proposed by the NCC on Experimental Farm land, but is considered the least harmful to ongoing agricultural research.
Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney said she’s happy with selected site. “I am happy as long as the location is accessible by transit and does not support undue traffic impacts on existing neighbourhoods,” she said.
Not everyone is pleased with this decision, however. Friends of the Farm, which works to, “preserve, protect, maintain and enhance” the Farm, said: “We were very disappointed to learn that despite the (NCC)’s recommendation of Tunney’s Pasture, the federal government will offer land from the (Farm) to the Ottawa Hospital for a new Civic campus. The Friends understand there will always be important land needs to be considered, but continually encroaching on National Historic Sites should not be the easy answer,” the statement read.
Local environmentalists and defenders of the Experimental Farm’s heritage significance and research mandate spoke out to “save the farm” during the months-long debate over where to locate the new hospital campus.
Robb Barnes, managing director of Ecology Ottawa, said he too was disappointed to see the NCC’s Tunney’s Pasture recommendation shot down.
“We thought Tunney’s Pasture would be a great choice, probably the best one,” he said.
Barnes cited benefits including proximity to the future LRT line, and added that a hospital at Tunney’s Pasture would have utilized pre-existing infrastructure instead of building on greenspace.
“We were disappointed by the switch. They’ve now gone back to a section of the farm again, which was the problem in the first place,” he added.
However, he says he believes the Sir John Carling lot is the least troubling of the four sites that had been proposed for the Experimental Farm land.
The Sir John Carling site is one of the 12 federal sites identified by the National Capital Commission as viable spots for the new Civic campus. These sites include: Tunney’s Pasture, Lincoln Fields, West Hunt Club Road North and South, Woodroffe Avenue, Merivale Road, Booth Street Complex, and then four locations spanning across the Central Experimental Farm, including the Sir John Carling site.
The new Civic campus is expected to be completed by 2026. With nearly ten years before the planned completion deadline, Barnes said that there is still a great deal of “conversation that can still be had, despite the fact that they seem to have solidly come down on one site.”
Barnes said it’s worth nothing that “all hope is not lost in terms of green space protection.”