Hospital, politicians pick Carling Building site for new Civic campus in Ottawa

The Ottawa Hospital and local politicians say they’ve reached a compromise on the location of a new Civic Campus.

Officials said Friday morning that the new hospital would be built on the site of a former federal office complex, the Sir John Carling Building, on the eastern edge of the Central Experimental Farm near Dow’s Lake.

“We believe that the Sir John Carling location provides the best location to build the hospital of the future,” said Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, who convened a meeting this week of hospital officials as well as federal and provincial politicians to resolve an impasse over the Civic’s future location. “Overall the Sir John Carling site is a win for the patients and the residents of Ottawa.”

Friday’s announcement is the latest dramatic twist in a nearly nine-year odyssey for the Ottawa Hospital to find a new location for the Civic, parts of which are nearly a century old.

Last week, the National Capital Commission said Tunney’s Pasture was the best location for a new campus.

The Ottawa Hospital, however, disagreed and cited concerns about cost, vehicle access and construction timelines. Its top pick was the Experimental Farm, across Carling Avenue from the current hospital.

‘Best for patients’

Proponents of the Sir John Carling site, located across from the current Civic Campus, say access from the Queensway, Prince of Wales Drive and Carling Avenue, as well as being within 100 metres of the O-Train Trillium Line stop at Carling Station, is preferable for patients.

“This is about what is best for the patients. When you have hospital administration and medical experts saying this site is good for the patients, and you have alignment from federal, provincial and municipal levels, this is a sign we’re on the right track,” Mr. Watson said.

Ottawa Hospital CEO Jack Kitts told the press conference that Tunney’s Pasture “wasn’t an option.” He says that while the NCC engaged with the Ottawa Hospital during its consultation, the board did not consult with hospital administration before making its final decision.

Ottawa Centre MP Catherine McKenna defended the NCC’s process in coming to its Tunney’s Pasture recommendation, calling it a “great public consultation.” She said that while the group had reached a different conclusion, it aligned well with the criteria established during the NCC’s consultation of an accessible, central location that preserved green space.

The group says the Sir John Carling plot, located on a corner of the Central Experimental Farm, will cause minimal interruption to any research conducted on the heritage site.

Mr. Watson, who sits on the NCC’s board but was absent from the meeting earlier in the week due to illness, said he was disappointed in the board’s decision and that “there are a lot of things we could’ve done better.”

He added that the consultation was successful in engaging the public in the need for a new hospital, but that the vast majority of feedback his office had received was negative towards Tunney’s Pasture.

Ottawa Centre MPP Yasir Naqvi said he is hoping for a final decision on the site before the end of the year. If the site is approved, a two-to-three year planning process would then commence. Mr. Kitts says that if the process begins now, the new Civic Hospital should be built within the next 10 years.

The 50-acre property is the former home of the Sir John Carling Building, named after the former agriculture minister who established the Central Experimental Farm in 1886.

First occupied in 1967, it was at one point the headquarters of Agriculture Canada and the minister’s office.

However, the property was suffering from “long-term neglect” only 25 years after it opened, the Ottawa Citizen reported at the time.

After being rated to be in “poor” condition for several years, the federal government started to prepare demolition plans in 2008.

The building sat empty for several years before it was finally demolished in 2014.