The former Alberni District Secondary School site on Burde Street has been growing weeds for too long, according to former teacher Lyman Jardin.
But he doesn’t want to see a developer get a hold of it; instead, Jardin wants to see a much needed, long-term care facility replace the empty space.
“I see this as an absolute golden opportunity for a prime site for a multipurpose, long-term care facility in a mid-Island setting,” he said. It’s not just Port Alberni that would benefit from it, he adds: at only an hour or two away from Ucluelet and Tofino, it would service the West Coast too, Jardin added.
“Otherwise it is simply going to be sold to some kind of developer and who knows what will happen. It’s an opportunity that exists at the current time that is going to go away if someone doesn’t try to do something.”
In order to facilitate such a proposal, Jardin sees something different than a straight land sale happening.
“I know I’m being absolutely naive to think that the Minister of Health and the Minister of Education might actually see a potential land swap as part of a deal that could be made with School District 70 to facilitate something like that,” he said.
“A land swap as opposed to going through financial middlemen makes a lot of financial sense. It’s going to take some out-of-the-box thinking by a few people.”
Port Alberni city councillor Denis Sauve—liaison to the city’s seniors’ advisory committee—is a fan of Jardin’s idea.
“I absolutely agree with [Jardin],” he said.
“The issue we’re having right now is that the lack of economic of growth within the city prevents us from visiting those ventures.”
Sauve doesn’t want to see a privatized long-term care facility on the land, believing that it will be too expensive for many seniors.
Instead, he thinks that the province needs to step up to the plate.
“It’s a lot of negotiating with the province and the province has to get involved,” Sauve said.
“We’re ill-funded here locally and we’re in need of it. Unfortunately, the province uses the same excuse that they’re ill-funded by the federal government.”
According to the 2015 Alberni Valley Vital Signs report released by the AV Community Foundation, the number of seniors in the Valley is expected to increase 96 per cent by 2034.
The lack of long-term care isn’t just a Port Alberni issue, Sauve added.
He believes that a revision of the patchwork system of seniors’ care needs to happen province-wide.
But for Port Alberni at least, that is unlikely to happen.
“At this time, we have no plans to increase residential care capacity in Port Alberni,” said Valerie Wilson, Island Health manager of communications for the North and Central Island.
There are currently 192 publicly subsidized beds in long-term care facilities in the Alberni Valley, according to Island Health. There are also 34 assisted living suites.
It’s not enough, said Sauve, noting the Port Alberni seniors who are shipped off to facilities in Parksville and Courtenay.
According to city planner Scott Smith, Island Health owns approximately three-quarters of a large empty lot bound by Morton and Maitland streets, and Eighth and Ninth avenues—approximately in front of the RCMP station.
According to Wilson, one of the three lots in that block is identified as a possible site for the Port Alberni Shelter Society. The other two “are being held for strategic purposes not yet identified.”
However, Jardin doesn’t think that lot in front of the RCMP station is a suitable one for a new long-term seniors’ care facility.
“Isn’t [the former ADSS property] the site you would like to see a long-term care complex on rather than the old hospital property?” he said.
However, the former ADSS site may not be up for grabs.
“It is our intention to look at disposing of the property,” said School District 70 superintendent Greg Smyth.
According to SD70 secretary treasurer Lindsay Cheetham, the school district is working with the province to facilitate property sale. The property has not been formally listed with a real estate company although the district has consulted with a realtor.
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While the future of the old ADSS site isn’t certain, one thing is.
“We are not going to be a developer of the land,” said Smyth.
“So those who have said it would be great for this or great for that… yes, but it will be someone else who would pursue that.”
Selling the property is important to the school district not just because it is excess property.
“We have had to borrow money to pay for part of the construction of the new ADSS,” said Cheetham.
“The proceeds from the sale will first go to pay off that loan before anything that is left over would come to the district.”
However there is not going to be anything left over.
The loan, Cheetham said, is $1.5 million. The property is apparently not worth that much.
The school district is unlikely to recoup the whole $1.5 million for the 22-acre property, he said.
“We’ve had a realtor look at it and give us a proposal in terms of what to list it as and that proposal does not cover the whole $1.5 million,” said Cheetham.
Smyth said the school district will be looking to get all it can for the property.
“Certainly, we want to maximize the value of that property so we’ll be pursuing it from that angle,” said Smyth.
In order to facilitate the trade that Jardin hopes for, the health ministry would have to come up with the $1.5 million that SD70 owes.
“We need the sale of that property to pay off that loan,” said Cheetham.
They’ve had no proponents approach them regarding developing the site as a seniors’ facility, Smyth added.
But Jardin will continue to hope.
“One day I might need such a facility, and I would love to have a room looking out over the harbour, or the Beaufort Mountains, rather than one that looks at the police station or the homeless shelter.”