By Jessica Lovell
A year and a half from now, the local health unit should be moving into a brand new building – smack, dab in the middle of the city.
“If you actually look at Guelph on a map now, this actually is the centre of town,” said local MPP Liz Sandals, standing on a plot of University of Guelph property, soon to be the location of the new permanent home of Wellington Dufferin Guelph Public Health.
Sandals, who is also parliamentary assistant to the Ontario Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, was on hand Tuesday for the ceremonial ground breaking for the new facility. “I think this will be a great location,” she said, offering two reasons.
The first: While the health unit has offices in Wellington and Dufferin counties, and further north in the city at the Shelldale Centre, the health unit’s temporary location in an industrial area has been a challenge, she said.
“This location will put the public back in public health,” said Sandals. “No matter what the issue is, it will be so much better for the public to figure out how to access the services in this location.”
The second reason she offered was proximity to the Ontario Veterinary College, the University of Guelph, and facilities like the Ministry of Agriculture.
“There’s a great location here in terms of collaboration with other agencies,” she said.
Plans are for a three-storey, 50,000-square-foot, purpose-built facility to be located on Chancellors Way, just north of Stone Road and south of College Avenue.
Progress on those plans was delayed by a dispute between the City of Guelph and the board of health, mainly over the cost of building a brand new facility.
Cost was not mentioned during Tuesday’s ceremonies and little was said to acknowledge the dispute. Board of health chair Amanda Rayburn told a crowd that included representatives from public health, the university and one city councilor that the new building “represents good stewardship of our resources.”
Rayburn acknowledged the city’s support, saying “we wouldn’t be here today without support from the City of Guelph, Wellington County and Dufferin County.”
Following the ceremony, Rayburn said she was pleased to see that city councillor June Hofland, who also sits on the board of health, had made it out for the event.
Hofland was careful about pointing out that she was there in her capacity as a board member, though she is also a city councillor.
The other two councillors who sit on the board could not make it out, nor could Mayor Karen Farbridge, who had another commitment, said Hofland.
Removing her board-member’s hat and voicing her personal opinion, Hofland said she was surprised to hear Sandals praise the location the ways she had. “I wouldn’t call it an ideal location,” said Hofland. She feels a better location would be downtown.
Nonetheless, “It’s essential that we have a home for our public health,” she said. “I’m quite confident that the facility will serve the residents of our city and Wellington County very well.”
She would not say that the city had resolved its issues with the board of health, but in response to that question said only, “the facility’s being built.” As to costs, Hofland said “our treasurers have been working diligently to work out the finances.”