By John Swartz
Orillia Council at its committee meeting Monday afternoon debated whether to go ahead with an economic impact study of the effect Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital has on the downtown. There really wasn’t debate in the traditional sense, with someone arguing the study wasn’t necessary.
The only point of objection was from councillor Mason Ainsworth about which accounting fund the money should come from to pay the estimated $40,000 cost. The motion said operating contingency reserve. Treasurer Jim Lang agreed the money should instead come from the current operating contingency budget, not the reserve.
Counicllor Ted Emond, who asked for the report outlining costs, told council the hospital board has stated a preference about the location of a new hospital.
“The hospital board at this time has made a decision that they would like the future hospital to be located within the geographic boundaries of City of Orillia,” Emond said. “What we are more interested in the narrow sense of this report is its impact on the downtown core if a site other than the current site were to be selected.”
The study is meant to provide current effects of the hospital’s presence in the heart of the City, information which could provide weight to any argument to keep it centrally located if a site is chosen outside the core. One of the 3 proposals for rebuilding is for a green site, which one could logically assume would be west of Highway 11, though hospital staff told SUNonline/Orillia it’s possible to find one on the east side of the highway.
In fact, on the hospital’s website there are self produced stories saying consultations with the community so far reveal a preference to build on a green site. They also link media stories reporting hospital staff and board positions in favour of a green site (though not linked is SUNonline/Orillia’s opinion piece which raised questions no one else is asking about what happens with what is left behind should a new location be chosen).
Emond addressed potential conflict over a different site being chosen.
“If you are following what’s going on in the province at the moment, places like Collingwood, the Niagara region and Windsor are all in situations where the municipality and the hospital are not on the same page with respect to future location and it’s causing, not only stress in the communities, but its causing difficulties as they deal with ministries and we’d like to be ahead of that curve, be in partnership across our entire community,” said Emond.
Councillor Ralph Cipolla was in favour of doing the study to provide data, but as a downtown business owner for 40 years he has an idea what might be concluded.
“To be honest with you, I don’t really need a consultant to tell me the importance of the impact on the downtown,” Cipolla said. “The hospital has a major impact into the downtown area.”
Mayor Steve Clarke said there are many questions yet to be answered, including is there going to be one hospital location or more.
“Each one of those would have an economic impact on an area if they were together or if maybe they were separated,” said Clarke. It still comes down to location.
“Where in the City might be a better location for keeping a vibrancy, or adding a vibrancy, I think that’s a key question; the effect of retail, accommodation, etc.; the impact a different geographical-centered area might have on ancillary businesses that surround hospitals, doctors, physical therapy, etc.,” Clarke said.
“I’m hoping the resulting report will allow us to better understand what our role is in this big project. I think we need to know more definitively what impact this could have on the City of Orillia from a number of standpoints.”
Part of the role involves money from both the municipal corporation and citizens.
“Make no mistake about it, this project will be hundreds of millions of dollars,” Clarke said, outlining the province typically covers 90% of construction cost, and as with the Community Tower, the other 10% coming from a combination of municipal contribution and fundraising from citizen donations. He also said another 10% equivalent is needed for equipment since the province does not fund most new equipment.
Councilor Tim Lauer questioned if the study would be tendered. Dan Landry of the economic development department, who presented the report, said City policy allows for obtaining quotes and that the department did ask several consultants for estimates of cost, but for items of this amount tenders are not required.
The motion passed with an amendment to the correct funding source and will be ratified at next Monday night’s regular council meeting.
CORRECTION: The number of proposals (as submitted in a deputation to Orillia Council) was mistakenly noted as 4 instead of 3. Furthermore, the hospital board has opted to pursue finding a different location to build than the one presently occupied.
(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia, or Supplied)