Groves officials find receptive audience for hospital plans

Over 80 people came to the museum here to learn about plans for a new hospital for Centre Wellington, and most of them went away impressed.
The hospital received half a million dollars earlier this year to be­gin plans to build a new 60-bed, two storey hos­pital, and an­nounced that land owned by the Trask family to the east of the museum and library is the prime candidate for the new hospital.
Among the things to be done there are soil tests.
Hospital board chairman Janet Vallery explained the pro­cess that first led officials to try for major renovations in 2002 and how they concluded two years ago that it was more effi­cient to build a new building entirely.
Vallery said the catchment area for the hospital has a population of 37,430 today, but that is projected to increase by another 10,000 people by 2027.
Because of the provincial green belt and the Places to Grow legislation, the catchment area is expected to expand at a rate of 26.8%, with Centre Welling­ton’s rate hitting 47.46 during that period.
Building subcommittee chairman John Podmore ex­plained the current building is 100,000 square feet, and the new building will be 140,000, with room for growth and ex­pansion. The design plans consider future growth.
He said the hospital’s beds would increase by five from the cur­rent 55, and, “Finally, we will have rooms that allow a wheelchair or a walker.”
He said the new building would allow better air flow con­trol, be more energy effi­cient, provide better capability for materials management, and include a spiritual centre and space for volunteers.
Further, he said, it will be built to the new Building Code specifications and health regu­lations. It will include new iso­lation rooms, have larger wash­rooms, and a larger ambulatory care room, as well as space for medical and resident training.
Podmore said there is fierce competition among medical students to get a placement at the current Groves, and that will likely increase with the new hospital. Of course, that leads to more new doctors like­ly moving to the community.
“We want to encourage that,” Podmore said.
He noted, too, that it would take up to seven or eight years to complete the renovations at the current building, because the hospital would have to op­erate while that work is being done. It will take only two years from final approval to construct a new hospital.
Renovations would have cost about $73-million, and a new hospital, in today’s dollars, would be about $71-million.
Hospital Chief Executive Officer Jerome Quenneville stated plainly that the longer it takes to get the approvals and to get building, the more likely the cost will increase. He noted that the new Wellington Ter­race on the museum lands was approved in 2004 and cost about $30-million, but said it would likely cost $50-million today, just a few years later. That same inflation factor will affect the cost of the new hos­pital.
He hopes the new hospital can be done by 2011.
Podmore said the commit­tee has now considered what it needs, including sewage and water services, and noted that having the Wellington Terrace nearby is a good thing in case of emergencies (if there is a problem in one kitchen, the near­by one could be put into temporary service, for example).
Podmore said the commit­tee has had discussions with Norm and Jean Trask about their adjacent farmlands.
“Many citizens said, ‘If we get a new hospital, I hope it’s near the Wellington Terrace,’” said Podmore. “So did we.”
He said somewhere on the Trask property he hopes to find the perfect 30 acres. Those will also have to accommodate a helipad for emergency heli­cop­ter ambulance service.
Trail protected
Podmore said, “At the top of our list is respect for the trail.”
There are numerous trails run­ning through and around the county museum, and hospital officials are hoping that people will walk and cycle on them when visiting or even for staff.
In fact, when a resident asked Quenneville if the hos­pital planned to charge for park­ing, the CEO replied, “We really, really want to encourage the use of the trails.”
The laughter that followed indicated the audience under­stood parking will be an e­x­pense for visitors. Quenneville noted most hospitals are charg­ing for parking these days, simply because there is no health money for maintenance and snow clearing of the lots. The hospitals have to find it somewhere, and parking fees are an easy solution.
Podmore said the trail syst­em is “just another reason for locating in this area. We hope to make another trail [a branch off the other trails] into the hospital for workers and visi­tors. We’re very lucky [that] in between between Elora and Fergus, we have choices.”
Quenneville explained there are several steps to complete before the hospital tenders are called, and it could take up to a year or more to get plans done and the approvals and money required from the Ministry of Health. The province will pay 90% of the hospital’s costs, and Groves has already raised $15-million from its renovation cam­paign.
Quenneville noted, though, the hospital also needs to pur­chase new equipment. It has plans, for example, to get a new CT scanner, and he said he doubts people would want the hospital to delay that until a new building is ready. This way, staff can be familiar with it when they move into their new building.
Salem resident David Copp asked how long the work will take, and, with $15-million in the bank already, how much more the community will be ex­pected to raise.
Quenneville pointed out there is no foretelling the sche­dule, because this area is not the only one looking to build­ing a hospital. Further, he said, changes in government and its staff can cause delays. He work­ed on one project where the community had to satisfy five different sets of ministry consultants because they kept changing.
Copp told Quenneville that the preliminary plan “looks great.”
Allan Jones, of Fergus, won­dered at the atrium style on the drawings presented, and said that is wasted space. He cited the high school, where no-one likes that style of building, which, he said, needs to be heated – without pro­vid­ing any use.
Hospital officials agreed they can reconsider that part of the plan, but Quenneville said that the Building Code now requires outside windows in all patients’ rooms, and that is one way of providing them on the inside sections of the hospital.
Another man asked about only five more beds than the current building.
Quenneville said the hos­pi­tal does mostly day surgery, and Groves is currently almost never filled to capacity. As well, there are more health care options in the community, so 60 beds should be adequate.
The man also wondered when people who made dona­tions several years ago are going to see something for their money. “It hate people donat­ing money and not getting any result,” he said.
Quenneville said the hospi­tal is “on track now. We do need a little bit of time.”
Russ Spicer asked if the board has considered what will happen to the current Groves building.
“Are we working on a simultaneous and parallel plan what we do with the old site?” he asked, suggesting there is an opportunity to benefit health care in other ways.
Quenneville admitted the board has “not spent a lot of time on it.”
Further, he said, the land and building at Groves is own­ed by Centre Wellington Town­ship, and not the hospital board. But, the new hospital build­ing and land will be owned by the hospital board.
Fergus resident Deryk Smith congratulated the board for “the kind of public process we’re all dying for.”
He said the Trask lands are designated in the official plan and zoning for a community planning study, and he hopes the county and township will be cooperative in the process. He told county and town­ship officials present it is “nice to have this in parallel with something you own.”
Quenneville noted that from a transportation perspective, there is some work that needs to be done for the lands.
Another resident asked why there is no plan for a basement in the new building.
Quenneville said it is the board’s experience people do not enjoy working underground with no outside view, and neither do patients like that.
Derek Graham, who has land close to the museum, asked if there will be a tunnel or “corridor” from under the hospital to the seniors’ home.
Quenneville said it is a possibility, but when that was done in Sault Ste. Marie in a project he was involved in, it was more for emergencies than anything else. He also noted there are strict requirements for such tunnels and their air flows.
Most of the audience ap­plauded when the session was over. Hospital staff have since been visiting various commu­nity groups to explain the plans.