Major Abbotsford health project delayed and redrawn

Proposal to build community health centre and residential care home on MSA Hospital lands back to drawing board two years after RFP issued.

Land on McCallum Road that was once home to MSA Hospital has been vacant for seven years now.

Land on McCallum Road that was once home to MSA Hospital has been vacant for seven years now.

Nearly two years since Fraser Health declared it was moving forward with a multi-million-dollar project to develop the MSA Hospital lands, plans to build a community health care centre and residential care facility have moved backwards.

The McCallum Road property that was once home to MSA Hospital has sat vacant for seven years since the construction of the Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Cancer Centre and the subsequent demolition of the old facility.

On July 31, 2014, the health authority said it envisioned a Campus of Care for seniors, with a 200-bed residential care facility, a community health centre, multi-family housing, and retail and park space. A request for proposals (RFP) had been issued, with the Fraser Valley Regional Hospital District providing 40 per cent of the funding, with the province and Fraser Health kicking in the rest.

“Through the years, various options for this site have been considered and it is exciting to see this project moving forward,” Health Minister Terry Lake said in a news release at the time.

The community health centre was to be the second of its kind in the region, with the first opening in 2013 in Mission, and its aim was to co-ordinate and provide a variety of services and programs in fields including public health, home health, mental health and substance use. It would be built by a private company and leased back by Fraser Health.

The residential care facility, meanwhile, would cost $35.2 million and replace the beds at the existing Cottage and Worthington facilities located off of Bevan Road.

But the project has taken several detours since, The News has learned. That original RFP failed to generate suitable proposals and was cancelled in December 2014.

Last September, Fraser Health chief executive officer Michael Marchbank told a meeting of the Fraser Valley Regional Hospital District’s board that the residential care facility, a key component of what was once envisioned as “a walkable urban village,” was to be built elsewhere in Abbotsford, with much of the MSA lands to be sold off.

The minutes of last September’s meeting stated, “Dependent on the value proposition, a 2.9-acre parcel will be subdivided and retained for the new Community Health Centre.”

Contacted this week, though, Fraser Health spokesperson Jacqueline Blackwell said staff are currently looking at a variety of options for the site, and the residential care facility might be built at the old MSA Hospital lands, or elsewhere in the city.

“We’re looking at different approaches to make sure the next RFP process is successful,” she said.

Blackwell said confidentiality rules forbade the disclosure of the reasons that submissions for the original RFP failed.

Under the city’s proposed new Official Community Plan, the land for the area would be classed Urban 1 – Midrise suitable for multi-family housing including low- and mid-rises up to six storeys tall.

Under a provincial program requiring bodies to dispose of surplus lands, Fraser Health had also been required to dispose of any property it didn’t build on by March 31, 2016.

That date has now come and gone, and a second extension has been granted. With the next RFP to be issued within a year, there’s no assurance that the next deadline will be met either, although Blackwell said the health authority will work to meet it.

Blackwell said Fraser Health is now finalizing details of the new plan and expects to release the next RFP – or, possibly, multiple RFPs – “within 12 months.”

A recent report to the city’s intergovernmental affairs advisory committee suggested the community health centre won’t be in operation until 2019, but Blackwell said timelines are still to be determined.

“We are disappointed it has taken a bit longer to get off the ground than originally anticipated,” Blackwell said. “However, this is a large project with multiple moving parts and we need to ensure due diligence in our planning.”