City of London staff have prepared their reports and recommended that all but 2 of the OVH lands buildings be marked for demolition. People are asking me why I want to save the remaining buildings.
Shouldn’t the real question be, why are we tearing them down?
I’ll admit that I’m still green; just a few months in my position and certainly not an Urban Planner or a Heritage expert but I was given a wealth of resources (most of which are online for anyone to see) and after reading them all I came to a fairly logical conclusion; They say all the buildings are in good shape and suitable for reuse, So, keep the buildings and repurpose the ones that aren’t currently being utilized.
These buildings have already been determined as Heritage buildings. That alone should have some merit. I can hear some of you already saying “Just because it’s old doesn’t mean we should keep it”… that’s absolutely true but many of these buildings are still being used on a daily basis such as a martial arts group that rents space in the Health Services Building or the The South St. Annex being home to UWO classes. My greatest concern is for 385 Hill St, the former Crippled Children Hospital which has been home to Growing Concerns child care centre for many years. They are a very reputable daycare with sought after spaces worth the wait list. Parents praise the teachers as being some of the best in the city. Growing Concerns offers extended programing and takes children from newborns to school aged (10 yrs olds) open from 6:15 am until 8pm. The SoHo location makes it ideal for LHSC employees or downtown workers. To lose this child care centre in SoHo would be a huge set back. The city is already short of quality subsidized child care spaces. There’s also a lot of really cool features of this property. There’s a pool in the basement and the reports tell that the building was designed so that another 7 stories could be added in the future. Talk about infill opportunity!
Each one of the these buildings hold such great potential for reuse because they already hold the feature that SoHo is looking for. Let me show you. I’ve been talking to a number of groups and organizations in SoHo that are looking for spaces and they’ve come to me asking “What’s happening to the hospital buildings? Can we use them?” I started making a list of resources that each group was looking for. I saw many common threads and visions for our neighbourhood. Separately, all of our groups were too small to do anything but partnering together there is a great chance that we can do incredible things.
It’s no secret that I want a community centre for SoHo. We are an inner city neighbourhood that requires a community hub to provide the services that our neighbourhood is lacking. You’ve probably heard that we are an up and coming area and that’s even more reason for us to have a home. With new developments coming at both the north and south ends of SoHo and construction with water mains being replaced, information needs to be relayed to the neighbourhood so that their input will help shape the way. Actually.. I’m not going to go into all those details with you now but let’s assume we need a community centre. The resources that we would want and need for our centre are already features in some of the hospital buildings. Gym for recreational activities? check. Stage for a SoHo theatre group to present plays or guest speakers to entertain and teach us? Check. Kitchens for event meal planning & prep, Community Kitchen, Cooking classes? Check. Classroom space for literacy programs, mentoring programs. Check. A Library for a small SoHo pocket library. Check. There is already an empty library waiting for us to fill it up! You see where I am going with this? This is just a small example. I’ve only scratched the surface.
The Duchess of Kent Legion is looking to downsize (due to their declining membership numbers – by the way… anyone can join the Legion now. I suggest you do, if able, to support our vets and they have fun events and cheap beer. 😉 They plan to stay in SoHo and in a perfect world their new home would also be able to accommodate housing for homeless veterans. That’s their ultimate dream. How could we help make that happen?
Beth Emanuel Church on Grey St. has long outgrown their little space for their heavily attended outreach programs. Serving 2 meals a week, in several shifts, they feed 75-150 people a day and do so with only donated money/food. I might add that most of that donated money comes from Pastor Delta McNeish who donates her salary from the church back into the outreach programs. Delta and I share a common desire to provide more and better services to our neighbourhood and can do so by combining forces.
Several other smaller groups need a home and/or a variety of spaces for rentals. We are all looking for the same things and could all work together.
My personal favourite idea is to return the Nurse’s Residences to it’s original purpose. To house people. Instead of expensive trendy condos, I propose something completely different. The nurses rooms were built to be about 10’x12′. While not apartment sized, that’s the perfect size for a room that could also have a bar fridge and microwave. I propose a community housing program that would act as a stepping stone from homelessness, providing private rooms but common gathering spaces including a large kitchen for group meals, entertainment rooms as well as access to community services. (Literacy programs, job search, skill building, mental health referrals etc.) Providing people with dignity and choices and support.
Okay. I have to stop writing now because I’m tired and my real efforts need to be put into my report for the Planning and Environment Committee. You’ll all be able to read that when it’s done.
Oh I forgot to add in… when you’re looking at creating a service that assists all members of the community, inclusively, you’re also opening up the opportunity for funding. Children, Women, Seniors, Veterans, Youth, At risk populations… Partnerships is the way to go!