Hospital woes

The site allotted for the new Alberta Children’s Hospital was nearly slated to become a prairie reserve.

Located on the University of Calgary’s West campus, the site is considered virgin prairie, and contains several grasses and plant species such as rough fescue grass that are no longer widespread in western Canada.

A 1992 report by the university’s grounds department recommended that the site be preserved as an educational reserve to teach students and the general public about prairie wildlife and ecosystems.

"From a field naturalist’s perspective, the area has a lot of native plants that are important to preserve," said Donald Styles, a retired member of the Calgary Naturalist Field Society who used to study the area. Styles added that a hospital is also a venue for education. "The university has a right to do what they wish," he said.

However, the decision to build a hospital on the area angered Jane McQuitty, a resident of University Heights, located adjacent to the proposed reserve.

McQuitty said that when she and members of her community tried to complain about the proposed hospital, they were not heard.

"We were never consulted except as to how we wanted it to be built in our area," she said. "For example: ‘Would you prefer it closer to your backyards or further away from your backyards?’"

According to McQuitty, community forums were not in the form of a debate.

"You went to a hall and booths were set up by the proponents. Only the proponents got to talk. If you were an opponent to anything going on, your only means of expression were comment sheets."

She added that her MLA did not seem "the least interested" in the issue.

McQuitty explained that she has developed an attachment to the green space outside her home.

"As somebody who feels like this land is an old friend, it’s relevant to me that they were very close to having [the site] enacted as a teaching reserve," she said. "It was a gentleman’s agreement with the community."

But Styles argued the university hasn’t broken its agreement.

"We realize the site has been set aside for academic purposes," he said, pointing out that the hospital will be a training ground for new doctors.

But McQuitty does not agree.

"The truth is I’d like to wake up one morning and have my fairy godmother say, ‘This land is going to be preserved,’" she said. "But that’s not realism. Realism is it’s going to get developed."

"Emotionally, I’m not into the site being used because I’m into plantlife and wildlife," says McQuitty, adding that she is worried what construction would do to the rare plants and animal species that depend upon the vegetation.

The Campus Community Plan Web site illustrates how the children’s hospital will take up 60,000 m2 of the reserve in the first development cycle, followed by an additional 60,000 m2 later on.

Representatives from the Campus Community Plan and the Calgary Regional Health Authority could not be reached for comment.

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