Firefighters conducting a final sweep of the former Sarnia General Hospital last week did encounter signs of human habitation but didn’t find any bodies.
“We had concerns about the possibility of deceased in out-of-the-way places and we found nothing at all,” said Sarnia Deputy Fire Chief Bryan Van Gaver.
The job of removing asbestos from the former hospital at 220 Mitton St. and adjacent nursing residence on George Street began this week, thanks to a landmark agreement signed in August between Sarnia and GFIVE Inc.
The sale, which closed Sept. 21, will see the city give the company $5.4 million in stages to raze, remediate and rebuild the derelict property into a mix of new housing and low-rise commercial buildings.
The company’s five principals — Charles Dally, Alex Jongsma, Mark Lumley, Kenn Poore and Marty Raaymakers – purchased 7.5 acres of city-owned land for just $1,000.
But they are now responsible for any unforeseen problems arising from the asbestos remediation, which according to one estimate could cost $8.8 million.
Poore, a commercial real estate specialist, said the partners aim to have the former nursing residence demolished by the end of November. The main hospital could be down in February, with some sections even earlier.
“We don’t want to waste any time,” he said. “We want to get right to work.”
Demolition permits are awarded once inspectors confirm the asbestos is gone.
Last week, city firefighters donned full hazmat suits and breathing equipment to the enter the hospital and conduct a half-day search.
They found “obvious signs of the building being used,” Van Gaver said.
The boarded-up hospital has been a magnet for homeless people, metal thieves and criminal activity. Sarnia Police said this summer officers had investigated 116 incidents, with 24 arrests and 56 charges laid.
Increased security is already in place, Poore said. Fencing has been erected, security cameras installed and guards are on-site 24/7.
“Everybody is happy to see that something is happening,” said resident Mike Hurry, who lives across from the old hospital.
“I had a good conversation with Mark (Lumley) and Alex (Jongsma) and my sense is they want to work with the neighbourhood, they want to do a good job.”
Poore said as the planning process unfolds the company will meet with the neighbours again to discuss future uses of the property.
“We intend to communicate to neighbours any significant events coming up,” he said.