Make paradise, rip up that parking lot!

By: Rob Altemeyer, MLA for Wolseley

As published in The Metro

November 26, 2013

With all due credit to folk legend Joni Mitchell, the old Grace Hospital building and its parking lot in the historic Wolseley neighbourhood should be completely transformed.

Not everyone knows this, but Grace Hospital was originally located on Ross Avenue before moving to Wolseley at the corner of Arlington Street and Preston Avenue in 1906. The hospital moved again in the 1960s to its current location in St. James. The provincial government purchased the Wolseley site and used it as office and training space for provincial and regional health employees until staff moved to new facilities a few months ago.

Instead of just putting the site up for sale, the provincial government has consulted extensively with the local neighbourhood ahead of time to ensure that the new development — whatever it might be — fits with the community’s expectations. Wolseley residents have provided excellent and consistent feedback, with high priority given to infill housing, especially for seniors.

This would allow seniors who have raised their children in Wolseley to stay in the neighbourhood as they downsize, while at the same time giving younger families a chance to move into their majestic Wolseley homes.

Another priority for the neighbourhood is that the new project should fit with the surrounding architecture. The hope is that a "request for proposals" (RFP) reflecting local input will be issued by the province during the cleanup stage. This means the successful non-profit, private or social enterprise organization will have enough time to get ready to build as soon as the site is ready. This being Wolseley, you just know any proposal is going to have to be very Earth-friendly to get very far!

Infill housing projects are not easy and the old Grace site presents many challenges. The environmental hazards on-site include asbestos and PCBs. We need to tackle these problems before the building can be dismantled, to salvage any reusable materials, and then demolished. As well, the current parking lot sits on top of rubble left over from a decades-old demolition project, so rehabilitating the whole site is going to take quite a lot of time before any new construction can occur.

These and other challenges are being met thanks to some very clever collaboration behind the scenes. Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation is looking after the site rehabilitation while the department of Housing and Community Development is overseeing the redevelopment process. Both departments are also working closely with an advisory committee of the Wolseley Residents Association. If you have any questions about this project, feel free to call my office at 204-775-8575.

Ambitious? You bet! It’s often the only way to make a better world.