A year ago, the old Sarnia General Hospital building was a hub for vagrants and copper thieves. But as 2017 comes to a close, a new chapter is beginning for the blighted eyesore on Mitton Street.
Workers in hazmat suits have been clearing the multi-floor structure of asbestos in preparation for demolition.
The nurse’s residence will be the first to fall in 2018, said Ken Poore, one of five partners in GFIVE Inc. the company that purchased the 7.5-acre property and buildings.
“Time is money from our perspective.”
Poore said he hopes the main hospital building can be levelled by spring.
“We want to get it down and stop the blight on that area,” he said.
In 9-0 vote, city council cleared the way this summer for GFIVE to purchase the land from the city for $1,000. In return, Sarnia agreed to give the five local developers $5.4 million to raze, remediate and rebuild on the derelict site.
The plan calls for a mix of new housing, offices and possibly commercial space.
The same five investors entered into a legal agreement with the city in 2014 to buy the land for $1,000 and redevelop it into a $15-million medical campus. But council tabled a zoning application and that deal came unraveled in March of 2015.
City staff were directed to prepare another request for proposals early last year, although many suspected the city would be stuck with cleaning up the mess.
“I don’t want to prejudge the RFP process, but I think at the end of the day the city will have to take a leadership role in eliminating the building so it can be developed,” Mayor Mike Bradley said in May.
Sarnia police were called to 116 incidents at the hospital site after it closed in 2011, according to a May report. What’s more, officers made 24 arrests and laid a staggering 56 charges in connection with the old hospital over that time, data compiled by Police Chief Phil Nelson indicated.
In 2016 alone, police responded to 45 incidents and made 12 arrests and laid 28 charges.
Thieves, vandals and even the Canadian military, which used it for explosives training, left the inside of the main building badly damaged.
Even an undisclosed number of prescription pads identifying former patients and patient details were retrieved by police last January after they were stolen from inside the building.
But 2018 is looking much brighter for the property.
“We’ve been contacted by a number of different potential tenants,” Poore said. “(There are) some really good potentials that we think will fit well with the neighbourhood.”