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Official asks for support
Community approval sought to move forward with plans to build health centre at former Dehcho Hall location

Shane Magee
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Department of Health and Social Services (HSS) won't move ahead with plans to build a new health centre at the former site of Dehcho Hall without community support, said a department official.

NNSL photo/graphic

Perry Heath from the Department of Health and Social Services speaks during a presentation about the site selection for a new health centre in Fort Simpson during a Nov. 26 meeting in the village. - Shane Magee/NNSL photo

"If there's not community support for it, we're not fools, we're not going to build a facility on a piece of property where there's strong community opposition for it," said Perry Heath, the department's director of infrastructure planning, during a public presentation Nov. 26 on how the proposed site was picked.

Already criticized by First Nations and village leaders for not consulting the community on site selection for a facility to replace the existing health centre, Heath said the meeting was held to gather input and community support.

There were 26 people who attended, with most being either GNWT employees or village council members and employees.

After examining four sites on the island, Heath said the department settled on the former hall property as the best, and most cost-efficient, choice.

The lone voice of opposition to the proposal at the meeting came from Dennis Nelner.

The site, Nelner said, should be used for a sports track and potentially a tech and trade training centre.

"We in this community want to use our educational land for our kids," Nelner said.

He also expressed concerns with building a health centre right next to a school.

"I don't think you've thought this plan out," Nelner said.

"To be honest, it hasn't been written in stone," Heath said as he faced questioning of how the site was selected.

While Heath was asked after the meeting what would count as community support of the selected lot, he deferred to a health department media spokesperson.

In an e-mailed response, Damien Healy stated the site the department has settled on, Lot 500, is Commissioner's Land.

"The GNWT is not required to conduct formal consultation on Commissioner's Land," he wrote.

He also wrote that since the site has now been determined, the department will seek to have a "reserve," or claim, placed on the property with the Department of Lands, which is responsible for administration of Commissioner's Land.

However, Heath said the department already has the reserve.

That came as a surprise to Nelner, a member of the Fort Simpson District Education Authority, who said he walked into the meeting believing the Department of Education, Culture and Employment (ECE) had a reserve on the land for future development.

While it had been reserved by ECE, discussions between the deputy ministers of ECE and HSS saw the reserve transferred to the latter department, said Heath.

Asked what would make him and the education authority approve building the facility at the site, Nelner said he didn't know.

He said he felt the choice had already been made without input from community members.

Village council has already passed a motion supporting the selection of the site.

"I'd hate to see the community lose out because of a lack of consensus on the best site," said Mayor Sean Whelly.

The village would help find an alternate location for a running track and sports field, said senior administrative officer Dean Pickering.

Choosing the site

A site selection study by HSS looked at four possible locations on the island.

The new centre would be at least 1,015 square metres and it would be built to handle the needs of the community for the next 40 years, said Donna Allen, the CEO of Dehcho Health and Social Services.

Heath said a new facility needs access to piped water and sewage, has to be centrally located, needs to be above the flood zone and needs a large lot.

Two sites were ruled out because they required too much work to raise the ground and street levels above flood levels.

A third site didn't have enough space.

The fourth site was the former location of Dehcho Hall, near the schools. The building was demolished in 2010.

"We weren't successful in finding another site," Heath said.

Heath emphasized that capital funding for construction has not been allocated.

The site selection needs to be finalized and a plan created before money is set aside, he said.

Healy wrote that once the planning study is complete, the project will undergo GNWT peer review and would then be submitted for consideration in the capital plan.

The earliest the health centre could be considered for funding is in the 2017-18 capital plan, Healy wrote.

Existing health centre 'structurally sound'

Heath began his presentation by talking about the need to replace the current health centre.

It was built in 1972 and a long-term care centre was added to it in 1999 and 2000.

He said there was "a bit of a panic" in 2010 when issues were discovered with the foundation of the health centre.

However, he reassured the group that subsequent checks found the building is structurally sound, but still needs work.

Other major work is required to the electrical and mechanical systems, he said.

He dismissed a suggestion by Nelner that the GNWT do a phased renovation of the existing centre, saying it would be costly and disruptive.

Heath said once a new health centre is built, the plan is to build a new mechanical facility for the long-term care centre, then build a new long-term care facility on the site of the health centre.

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