Demolishing a prominent eyesore in St. John’s will be neither cheap or easy, but will happen, a cabinet minister vows.
The former nurses’ residence by the old Grace General Hospital site in St. John’s has become a magnet for graffiti, pigeons and vandals in the last two decades. The hospital closed in 2000, and main building was torn down in 2008.
Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Elvis Loveless says an environmental assessment of the nurses’ building at the rear of the property found asbestos, which at least for now is contained.
“To demolish it, there’s a cost and there’s figures around a couple of million dollars. And right now I don’t have a couple of million dollars to demolish it,” Loveless told CBC News.
The property has become the responsibility of Loveless’s department. While Loveless said he does not want to criticize former ministers, he doesn’t understand why the building — which sits on LeMarchant Road in a prime spot of real estate, with views of St. John’s Harbour — is still standing and not yet developed.
“I’m here now to deal with it and I want to deal with it. I don’t want to see it sitting there,” said Loveless.
What has not yet been determined is whether the province will pay for demolition of the building and what could be a costly remediation of the site, or whether the property will be sold at a presumably lower price, with the expectation that the purchaser will take on the cost of dealing with asbestos removal and improving the grounds.
Dr. Randy Follett, who has been outspoken about the site for years, is mystified why the nursing residence continues to stand.
“We’re really tired of looking at it,” said Follett, who has been running his chiropractic clinic in the shadow of the building for the last 11 years. “It is a simple disaster in this community.”
WATCH | Dr. Randy Follett tells Anthony Germain why he sees a double standard in how government is ignoring the former Grace nurses’ residence:
Follett says a private landlord who left a building in such harsh shape would be pursued by government officials. He says no one in government seems to care about chronic problems, and that “a double standard” is allowing the building to continue to deteriorate.
“You can see kids running through the hallways up there, sometimes to the window. And over the years, I’ve had to call the police because there’s been smoke coming out from teenagers setting fires in the upper floors up in there,” he said.
Follett said the property could be developed for condominiums, apartments or another use.
“I have a really difficult time understanding why it’s allowed and permitted to stay here [for] so many years in such bad shape,” he said. “What an opportunity.”
For some housing activists, the public would be best served with a project that offers affordable housing, rather than another upscale condo complex in a marketplace that has had plenty of such developments in recent years.
“It’s a great public asset and could be used for a lot of public good. I think investments into affordable housing would make sense,” said Doug Pawson, executive director of the non-profit group End Homeless St. John’s.
“It’s a big, big property with lots of potential for mixed residential-commercial. But I think a commitment using public public assets like this to have something like affordable housing — and deeply affordable housing — built in would be really, really important. That should be on the table.”