Neighbours of the Homewood Health Centre on Delhi Street had a chance to learn more about development plans at the historical property during an open house Thursday night.
“We have been pushing for a meeting for a year and a half,” said Ian Findlay whose Spring Street property backs on to the Homewood grounds.
Findlay and members of the community group Friends of Homewood Grounds have concerns about the project and began an online campaign and petition to pressure the health centre’s owners to provide more information.
Among their concerns are plans to remove a large number of trees.
“The property has the largest woodlot in downtown Guelph,” said Findlay.
The centre was founded in 1883 and many of the buildings were built in the late 1800s and early 1900s. RBJ Schlegel Holdings Inc. of Kitchener bought the property in 2010.
Brad Schlegel, one of three brothers who own and operate the centre, met with representatives of the FHG in April and promised to schedule a public information session.
“With change comes some angst and we want to make sure people get accurate information,” said Schlegel.
The open house gave people a chance to look at conceptual drawings of the development and to talk with heritage and environmental consultants as well as the architects.
“We sent flyers out to about 200 homes in the community inviting people to come,” said Aphra Zimmerman-Holy, public relations and external communications manager for the Homewood Health Centre.
Restoring heritage was a focus for Richard W. Hammond, principal architect with Cornerstone Architectural.
“There is a beautiful building hiding inside the Manor Building,” said Hammond. “We will restore much of the beauty that was covered up by previous construction.”
They plan to remove a brick wall at the front of the historic Manor Building and create a two-storey, glass enclosed atrium.
Beds from the Manor Building will be relocated to a new four-storey hospital on the sound end of the property, increasing the total number of beds at the centre from 314 to 350.
The $50 million plan includes the demolition of three buildings on the east side of Delhi Street to make room for a parking lot and the removal of approximately 180 trees.
“We want to be good stewards but we have to progress with the times if we are going to meet the needs of society,” said Schlegel. “Mental health and addiction is reaching epidemic proportions. Will the new hospital be enough to address the problem? No, but it will help.”
Another concern for the FHG is a plan to sever a 5.8-hectare lot from the southwest end of the property.
“We have assurances from the Schlegels that they won’t sell the property to developers but many people want more than that,” said Ward 2 city councilor James Gordon.
Brad Schlegel said the severance is meant to remove the lot from the project’s financing structure and he stressed that there are no plans to sell it. He said the lot, which contains the historic gatehouse and Riverslea Mansion, is an important feature of the centre.
Dr. Laurie Potter, chief of regional services for Homewood Health Centre said nature walks on the grounds are part of patient therapy.
“Being in nature is good for patients and exercise is a big part of their treatment,” said Potter. “It is a therapeutic environment and gives patients a chance to stop and breathe.”
Hammond said protecting patients’ privacy and maintaining the natural features of the grounds are integral parts of the development plan.
“It has taken two years to get approval,” said Hammond. “It’s a complicated process. We are hoping to begin construction by this time next year.”