Linda Mywaart of the Advisory Committee on Aging, Mayor Don Scott, Joan Furber, Alberta Infrastructure Minister Sandra Jansen and Murray Crawford, senior operating officer for Northern Lights Regional Health Centre pose for a photo with their thumbs up following minister Jansen’s presentation on Willow Square progress at the Golden Years Society in Fort Mcmurray, Feb. 2, 2018. Jansen reassured residents of the Province’s commitment to see construction on Willow Square begin as early as the end of March 2018.
Construction on a continuing care centre at Willow Square is expected to start this spring, Alberta Infrastructure Minister Sandra Jansen announced Friday, with a groundbreaking ceremony possibly coming by the end of March.
During an afternoon press conference and community meeting at the Golden Years Society, Jansen presented images and a video showing off plans for the building, which is expected to cost $110 million. It will have 144 spaces and room to expand with the community.
Most importantly, it is at the location the seniors have been demanding for years.
“You have been incredibly patient in the wait for Willow Square and I think that’s an understatement,” said Jansen. “We said we would build this facility and I am here to tell you we’re on track to begin construction this spring.”
Images and videos showed a building with large windows to allow natural light to flow in, while outside an “intergenerational park” will provide a space for seniors and family members of all ages.
A series of pathways will make moving around the facility and getting to local transit easy for disabled individuals.
Modern construction materials will make it more energy efficient, leaving a small environmental footprint.
The facility will be designed by S2 Architecture, which has design offices in Calgary and Edmonton. Construction will be done by Pomerleau Inc., which is based in Quebec City and has offices across Canada.
Jansen confirmed construction will be completed by the end of 2019, with people moving into the facility in the spring of 2020. This was a timeline promised by Premier Rachel Notley during a brief tour of the Japan Canada Oil Sands’ (JACOS) Hangingstone facility south of Fort Mcmurray in September.
“I’m going to be keeping close tabs on this project,” said Jansen. “It is on time and we’re going to make sure it stays that way.”
Mayor Don Scott said any outstanding permitting issues are being expedited so construction can begin as soon as possible. In the meantime, council will continue “twisting the arm” of the province on when construction of an aging in place facility can begin.
“This is really about honouring those who built the region and many of you were part of that,” he said. “Now you can look forward to being honoured in your retirement.”
The spot at the corner of Hospital Street and Franklin Avenue has dominated local politics since at least 2006, when former premier Ed Stelmach first announced the land was a priority for this facility.
In 2008, Stelmach announced plans to begin building a $35-million, 48-bed long-term care centre. The next year, then-health minister Ron Liepert said the project was no longer a priority for the province, due to Wood Buffalo’s growing younger population.
This sparked a public feud between former councillor Guy Boutilier, who was then an MLA with the PCS, and Stelmach. The feud ended in Boutilier’s ejection from the Tory caucus in 2009.
In November 2014, the province under former premier Jim Prentice bought the three-quarters of the land owned by the federal Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
“I am proud of the seniors in our community who never gave up and want them to know their persistence has paid off,” said Tany Yao, Fort Mcmurray-wood Buffalo MLA with the United Conservative Party, in a statement.
In a rare show of bipartisanship, Jansen acknowledged the advocacy of Yao and Fort Mcmurray-conklin MLA Brian Jean; the two posed for photos together after Yao greeted her with a gift bag welcoming her to the region.
Councillor Phil Meagher, who is the longest serving municipal councillor since first being elected in 1995, joked there was a time he believed construction at Willow Square would be announced after he himself had moved into a continuing care centre.
“We’ve been through this before and as soon as we see the shovels in the ground, we’ll believe it. We’ve been told the stories before,” he said. “It’s good to still be a part of this.”
Joan Furber, president of the Golden Years Society, said she was impressed with the designs and said she was also anxious to see construction begin.
Ideally, her hope is many seniors who wanted to stay in Fort Mcmurray but had to leave will return. Her brotherin-law, who was born in Fort Mcmurray, is one of those individuals.
“I’m not sure if a lot of seniors who wanted to stay will return, but my hope is some will come back,” she said. “Some we never expected may come back.”
Designs for Willow Square, presented by Alberta Infrstrucutre Minister Sandra Jansen at the Golden Years Society, Friday, Feb. 2, 2018.