Council pushing the envelope

High Prairie town council wants the Alberta government to demolish the old hospital and prepare land for new development as soon as possible.

Chris Clegg
South Peace News
The old hospital site is land High Prairie town council wants to secure, and the sooner the better.

Council agreed at its July 25 meeting to write a letter to several levels of government to speed up the process of demolishing the old hospital to clear the way for new development, specifically the Integrated Northern Lakes College campus.

“We are actively pursuing this,” said Cox. “This is us trying to secure the land.”

Council received a letter earlier in the day from Alberta Health Minister Sarah Hoffman regarding the site. Hoffman clarified several rumours swirling about the location.

“The Ministry of Health does not currently have an estimated cost of demolishing the old [hospital], but AHS expects to have an estimate of the demolition cost in the coming weeks,” Hoffman wrote.
“There is no time frame for the demolition and remediation of the site.
“The land value…and site preparation for future development is currently appraised at $855,000,” Hoffman added.

“It’s certainly not the $19 million being bandied about,” said Mayor Linda Cox.

Hoffman said no decision regarding the property would be made without first speaking with council.

A letter is being sent to Lesser Slave Lake Danielle Larivee, Hoffman, Minister of Education David Eggen, and Minister of Advance Education Marlin Schmidt asking for a meeting as soon as possible.

Discussion quickly turned to trying to secure the land for the proposed NLC campus, which would include NLC and high school programs. Council was very concerned that High Prairie School Division and NLC indicated they were willing to build east of High Prairie Elementary School.

Cox said she spoke with Holy Family Catholic Regional Division Supt. Betty Turpin, who said the old hospital site was their “preferred” location, but ‘We will not be left behind in this project.’”

HPSD board chair Tammy Henkel says no final decision has been reached, but the board did decide to ask the government to transfer land from HPSD to NLC to pave the way for the project.

Henkel added concerns over the length of time needed to prepare the old hospital site for a new campus could not be ignored.

“This project is a joint project between three partners [NLC, HPSD and Holy Family]. We’re trying to facilitate it…to enhance education. At the end of the day it is an education project. We want the best facility in the best location to serve the needs.”

Cox, Councillor Brian Gilroy, and Councillor Michael Long all expressed concerns with increased traffic the project would create in the residential area.

Gilroy said a traffic count was done at 10 a.m. in early July, which he called “pointless”. He added the increased traffic would be “very hazardous” in the area.

Long said he had spoken to residents in the area.

“They are saying they do not want that school built there,” said Long. “All the beautiful green space will be traffic and a parking lot.”

Councillor Brian Panasiuk was concerned the Alberta government was dragging its heels regarding a commitment.

“We have no idea what’s going to happen with that hospital site,” he said. “We don’t know. If we had an answer, we could plan.”

Regarding the NLC campus, Panasiuk was more direct.

“We have to build it somewhere. Where are they going to build?”

Long then called AHS an “incompetent $14 billion organization.”

Cox was disappointed that HPSD and NLC made it public they might built near HPE. She said it must appear to the Alberta government that not everyone in town is on the same page.

“Our partners at the table are fracturing,” said Cox.

She added she would like to see all five partners demanding the land be prepared for 2018, and that NLC and HPSD should be supporting their other partners.

“We need all five of those partners,” Cox added.

Cox said she has tried to meet with HPSD several times.

“Every time I try to get a meeting they say they are too busy,” said Cox.
“Those two have gone ahead and made their own deal.”

As a result, it has left council in a bad position.

Henkel says she has never seen a letter asking for a meeting.

“We’re willing to meet with anyone who wants to meet,” she says. “Write a letter.”

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do with this,” said Councillor Donna Deynaka.

Debbie Rose added she has spoke with Hoffman, who indicated she preferred all sides get together.

Gilroy suggested council consider buying the land for $1 million with the county as a partner.

“Ask people in the community to vote on it,” he suggested.

It is too late to legally place the question on the ballot as a plebiscite for the Oct. 16 election.

Cox replied if council purchased the land, it should be developed commercially.

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