Halifax councillor Waye Mason after a council meeting on Feb. 11, 2020. Photo: Jennifer Henderson

“We want to see the hospital project proceed but we also want to protect the Common,” HRM Councillor Waye Mason told journalists following a meeting of city council Tuesday afternoon. Mason says he is “optimistic” that a “win-win” compromise could be in the works following a meeting late Friday afternoon between staff from the province and staff from HRM.

As a result, councillors unanimously passed a motion directing CAO Jacques Dubé to start discussions with the province “to close a portion of the west side of Summer Street in order to co-locate a power plant and a parkade.”

The west side of Summer Street is where the Halifax Infirmary and CBC building stand. Dubé told HRM councillors some of the options that will be discussed with the province include narrowing Summer Street to one lane — to two lanes from the current four — or making Summer Street a one-way street in order to provide enough land to accommodate the proposed parkade and power plant on the same side as the Infirmary. Dubé said he does not contemplate closing down Summer Street to all through traffic.

Although “cooperative” discussions will now get underway between HRM and the province, a decision on where to site these two large pieces of infrastructure is far from a done deal. Mason said he didn’t know where the buildings would fit on the other side of the street and it’s not his problem. It is however a problem for the Department of Transportation Infrastructure and Renewal (TIR), which when asked where these buildings would fit did not have a ready answer.

“The province is happy to work with HRM on its proposal to address much-needed parking for the expanded Halifax Infirmary,” said TIR Minister Lloyd Hines in a written statement. “There is still much work to do to determine if this is a viable option. It will be up to HRM to consult with the public and to obtain the necessary approvals. In the meantime, we remain committed to providing safe and accessible parking for the thousands of patients, family members and staff who rely on this hospital every day. We look forward to cooperating with the municipality on this important work”.

What type of public engagement will take place is anybody’s guess; there’s not much time if a new garage is to be built to allow for construction of ORs and patient rooms on the spot where the current parkade exists on the Robie Street entrance to the Infirmary. That parkade used by staff and the public will be torn down next spring to make way for new facilities.

That said, both levels of government may have learned a lesson about doing deals in secret. Yesterday HRM council voted to de-classify the minutes of its in camera session January 14, 2020, during which negotiations with the province were discussed. (The minutes have yet to be approved, but the staff report prepared for the secret discussion was also declassified.) A public uproar ensued last week after Mason broke ranks to reveal the province was quietly negotiating with the city to buy half an acre of land that included a sliver of Common land.

The province wanted part of the Common land to locate a power plant and a seven-storey parking garage to expand services at the QE2 Health Sciences Centre that will replace those lost when the VG and Centennial buildings close. The property was on the eastern, or opposite side of Summer Street from the Halifax Infirmary.

Green space across from the CBC building at the corner of Summer Street and Bell Road was going to be used by the province to site a power plant for the medical complex. Halifax Citadel MLA Labi Kousoulis said in his view, “health-care trumped picnics” but apparently it has not. The province wanted to buy the paved parking lot on the south side of the Natural History Museum to build a parkade for hospital staff and visitors. As well, the province’s plan looked as if that might impact the Bengal Lancers Riding School that stood to lose a small part of its paddock. And those who enter and exit the Wanderers Grounds might have been re-routed to a slightly different access point.

The current proposal being discussed would resolve those issues but it almost certainly will create new headaches in such a congested area of the peninsula.

Jennifer Henderson

Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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  1. Rethinking the Hospital parkade: adding “climate crisis”, “accessibility”, “user health” “user-convenience” “life cycle costing” to the priority design criteria

    While it is nice that the Province seems open to discussing changes on the Parkade’s taking up Halifax Common lands, the proposed mislocation is not the only thing wrong with the proposal: the Province and its P3 contractors must be taken to task on offering only a 1950s-era design of the soon to be needed 900-car parkade.

    Simply put, not only would this give us a too-large, ugly building in very much the wrong place on our Common, its design ignores other fundamental priorities that must affect its design, construction, and operations. There are much better options available. A robotic valet parking system should be considered, with functional, environmental, accessibility, user-convenience benefits that could be offered in a structure half the size of the proposed parkade.

    In light of the climate crisis, consider the costs of the climate impacts of its 30-year lifetime, in the CO2 emissions from the large quantities of concrete to build it and in the CO2 emissions from 900 cars that will daily very slowly drive up and down its ramps and around its aisles. Over 30 years we are talking 10 million parking events, driving more than 11 million kilometers, the vast majority in internal combustion cars (for at least the next 20 years or so), emitting some 2 million kg of CO2.

    And there’s a total of 2,000 person-years the drivers would spend inside the parkade, driving in and out, and making their way from and back to their cars, breathing the exhaust fumes… Commuters would spend an average of 30–45 minutes a day there, a hundred-some hour a year inside. What fun.

    The plan further ignores a thoughtful and complete consideration of users living with mobility problems (it will be even worse at Accessibility than the existing parkade). The parking is for people going to and from a hospital.

    Further, it does not consider the effect of any Traffic Demand Management plans the city or Province might go for, or the changes to patterns of car ownership we are beginning to see today, both of which in a decade or so could reduce the need for that much parking space.

    And at the end of its service life in 30 (or in 20 or fewer) years what gets done with the structure? Tear the concrete down and send it to a landfill? It certainly can’t be in whole or part converted to other uses.

    It is time to redo the planning.

  2. Can the whole advanced-health-care complex be relocated outside the city centre (off-peninsula)? Then keep the downtown buildings for primary care treatment/consults – I am thinking frst contact with GPs, NPs, etc.
    Being referred to a medical specialist in Halifax involves waiting a LONG time (many months) for an appointment, driving for hours to get to the city, driving around looking for a parking spot, sitting in a waiting room full of sneezers and coughers for an hour past your scheduled time, seeing the specialist for 10 minutes, and leaving to find your parking meter has run out, and it’s rush hour and you have to negotiate strange city streets to get out of town. No time or inclination to patronize local businesses – just get outta here. Have supper in Truro or someplace. Is there benefit in having everything squished around the current sites?

    1. Having a needed health care facility located centrally allows access by bus, car, bike and foot. That’s four possible modes of transportation. Locating it outside the city centre almost always limits access to one decent mode of transportation: CAR ONLY. People who own cars and who locate outside the city have already committed themselves to having to drive everywhere for everything they need.

      This is neither economically possible for everyone, nor environmentally sustainable. I had an appointment yesterday at the Centennial. The wait was still long, but I could walk there and back because, I live in the city centre. And yes, it’s more expensive, but it’s a trade off. I don’t own a car, which means I am inconvenienced in certain ways–especially when the city and/or province decides to place needed facilities, like Inaccess Nova Scotia, or future health care facilities—in Bayers Lake. But when those needed facilities are centralized, it means I, along with everyone else who does not own a car, can actually access them reasonably well.

  3. I would be interested to know what the proposed use is envisioned for the V.G.H. /Dickson site. What developer has started developing plans for more and taller ugly condos on the lands?

  4. Nice to see leadership coming from the city.

    Surprise!! it’s not from the highest office. Too busy having pictures with Liberal buddies at a “green” car dealership.

    A car dealership that destroyed tracts of affordable housing on the peninsula for a parking lot a few years back (and probably donated to the Liberal party).

    But hey, they won an environmental award!!​

  5. While it is supposed to be good news that a new location is being considered, a larger issue with this story does not seem to be the getting attention it needs.

    A perfectly functional, relatively new hospital building, the Dixon Building, with very recent and immense investments in upgrades, is going to be torn down, and rebuilt as part of the QEII expansion. The Dixon Building houses many clinics, specifically the radiation treament centre upgraded in 2012. The costs of tearing down this site and a newer parking garage and rebuilding them, are unnecessary and unjustified.

    The desire to have everything in one place, and while on the surface many think it is necessary, is not necessary, as a Cancer patient I disagree vehemently, it does not make sense. I had a surgery at the QEII. But all of my Cancer treatments took place at the VG site and Dixon sites. When I was starting chemo, it was announced all the care care would be moved to the Dixon. Weeks later, that plan was scrapped and this hospital building was going to be demolished. At a huge additonal cost financially. And some have questioned if it is ethical to add this debt to an already overwhelming and secretive P3 plan.

    https://www.thechronicleherald.ca/opinion/local-perspectives/dr-bernard-badley-cancer-hub-move-driving-force-behind-mega-parkade-407175/

    1. As a medical physicist who works in radiotherapy, allow me to address some of the mistaken items in that article.

      1. by the time the new cancer centre is built the current radiaton therapy equipment will be at the end of it’s lifespan and will need to be replaced anyway.
      2. the Dickson Building is just as much a mess as the rest of the VG. We don’t allow patients to drink the water, for example. We have had near constant leaks as well, one of which resulted in having to replace one of our CT scanners.
      3. there is no other cancer centre in the country inwhich it is not attached to the main hospital.
      4. we treat many in-patients. If the cancer centre is isolated, then that means those patients will need to be transported from the HI to the VG resulting in delyed treatments and the tieing up of valuable transportation resources.
      5. if a medical emergency occurs in an isolated centre, then any medical personnel needed would have to come from the HI and waste valuable time.
      6. the current centre is inadequate for expansion and incorporation of new technology without significant investment, not to mention an increase in staffing for the future.
      7. the author of that opinion piece is a retired gastroenterologist and not an oncologist. He hasn’t worked at the QEII for at least 20 years, therefore he is not qualified to make statements on the adequacy of our equipment for radiotherapy or the state of this building.

      Eventually the Dickson will have to come down anyway, and probably not in the too distant future as it is. Better to do it NOW.

      This is a moment in which we can move froward for the future of healthcare in this province. By keeping the status quo for the cancer centre, we would be hobbling the future of cancer care in this province for decades and doina disservice to our patients.