‘Enough is enough’

High Prairie resident James Waikle, left, acting as a concerned citizen, signs the petition in a ceremonial signing. Watching is High Prairie & Area Chamber of Commerce president Barry Sharkawi, who supports the petition.

Chamber petitions for demolition of old hospital

Chris Clegg
Richard Froese
South Peace News

A petition is circulating in High Prairie to lobby the provincial government to demolish the old High Prairie Health Complex.

The petition, encouraged by resident James Waikle and backed by the High Prairie and Area Chamber of Commerce, is asking for immediate action citing several reasons.

  1. The site is a significant liability to the Province of Alberta, Alberta Health Services, and the Town of High Prairie. Despite the Province of Alberta and Alberta Health Services being made aware of the safety and liability hazards, no action has been forthcoming.
  2. The site is a hazard having been broken into several times and on one occasion a fire was started.
  3. The site has been secured improperly and constitutes a significant safety hazard to any volunteer firefighter entering the premise.

Waikle attended High Prairie town council’s meeting Nov. 12 asking the hospital be torn down.

“It’s a massive eyesore,” he told council.

“Clearly, the fence around the property is not a deterrent [to crime],” he added.

Mayor Brian Panasiuk replied council will “continue to be pressing them.”

“We are well aware of the hazards and vandalism in there,” he said.

“I’m glad to hear you guys are working on it,” said Waikle.

Councillor Brian Gilroy suggested a petition would help the cause.

“Anything to get that thing taken down,” said Waikle. “I don’t think you’ll find more than two people who [want to keep it].”

“It’s a tough sell with the government right now,” said Panasiuk.

Waikle took Gilroy’s suggestion to heart and attended the chamber’s monthly chamber meeting Nov. 21. The chamber was quick to get the ball rolling.

“We encourage everyone to sign the petition,” chamber president Barry Sharkawi said.

“The site has become a health and safety risk for the community.”

The chamber is distributing the petition in various locations around the community.

A fire in the old hospital Sept. 18 reignited pleas to the provincial government to demolish the building. The building has been vacant since the new High Prairie Health Complex east of town opened in April 2017.

High Prairie fire chief Trevor Cisaroski highlighted several concerns at council’s meeting Oct. 8.

Since the hospital was decommissioned, the sprinkler systems were turned off, said Cisaroski.

“Doors were bolted,” he added, making it “hell for firefighters” to fight the blaze.

And, one room was littered with scattered needles while other rooms were littered with broken glass due to vandalism.

“It’s a mess,” said Cisaroski.

The news did not please councillors.

“Perhaps those concerns could be listed out [in a letter],” said Panasiuk.

Cisaroski said even for derelict buildings, codes must be followed. Council quickly wondered if an inspection was in order.

Gilroy brought forward the issue saying the fire could be used as added extra pressure to have the building demolished.

“It’s putting firefighters at risk,” he said, adding it would be in the provincial government’s best interest “to tear the hospital down” due to possible liability from not only fire but repeated vandalism.

Councillor Debbie Rose agreed, saying now the building has proven to be an issue.

No money was set aside in the provincial budget Oct. 24 for demolition of the building.

“It’s on ongoing thing,” said Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pat Rehn.

“I’m trying to get a timeline and a commitment.”

The old hospital still remains as an Alberta Health Services [Government of Alberta] asset.

“[AHS’s] most recent estimates to demolish and remediate the site are in the range of $8.5 million,” reads a report from Rehn’s office.

“There is asbestos, etc., in the building.

“AHS advised that they do not currently have the funding to demolish nor is there an identified use for repurposing.”

“We’re exploring all options to see what makes the most sense,” said Rehn.

Rehn says the matter comes up frequently with Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro.

“There is no timeline but it’s front and centre [in discussions],” he said.

Sharkawi said the site on Highway 2 is also prime location for future development.

“A large derelict building on the main thoroughfare in town does not give potential investors confidence that High Prairie is a town that wants to grow and that people want to invest in.”

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