Prognosis remains poor for ailing hospital building

The former Sarnia General Hospital building. Troy Shantz

George Mathewson and Troy Shantz

While Sarnia waits to see if developers have any ideas for the former Sarnia General Hospital, vandals and metal thieves continue to enter the derelict building as though it has a revolving door.

Sarnia police have been involved in 116 incidents at the former Sarnia General Hospital since it closed in 2011, according to a recent report.

What’s more, officers have made 24 arrests and laid a staggering 56 charges in connection with the old hospital over that time, the data compiled by Police Chief Phil Nelson indicate.

Trespassers have left the inside of the hospital stripped and badly damaged. Ceilings and walls are broken and infected with black mould, and loose asbestos remains a health concern.

In fact, when officers enter the building they wear Hazmat suits, Nelson recently told the Sarnia Police Service Board.

“In terms of health and safety it is a hazard to anyone who enters the site, for legal or illegal reasons,” he said.

However, providing full-time security at the building by assigning officers with overtime would cost $23,000 per week, or $1.2 million a year, the chief estimated.

In February Sarnia issued a request for proposals for developers interested in the hospital property and nearby former health unit building.

Potential investors have until May 31 to submit a proposal.

Mayor Mike Bradley didn’t sound optimistic about the RFP.

“When you look at the value of the property and the cost to redevelopment, I think it’s going to be a struggle,” he said.

Before the site can be redeveloped the building would require $2.9 million in asbestos abatement, $5.3 million for demolition and $640,000 for soil remediation, among other things, city staff have estimated.

“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,” the mayor said.

In the meantime, people continue to enter it on an almost daily basis despite the windows being boarded and doors welded shut, neighbours say.

Last year alone, police responded to 45 incidents and made 12 arrests and laid 28 charges in connection with the Mitton Street building.

“The Sarnia Police Service is there to respond to crime in the community but it is not a private security company,” Bradley said.

“I think it’s up to council now to consider the options.”

Sarnia General closed in 2011 after its operations merged with St. Joseph’s Hospital to create Bluewater Health.

The city long maintained it wasn’t responsible for the building but did own the land, until the Ontario Superior Court disagreed last May and declared Sarnia the legal owner of both.