The Montreal Children’s Hospital – how do we manage institutional space?

Montreal Children's Hospital - not the work of the author

With construction of the new MUHC Superhospital already well underway, and the subsequent realization that the project will likely be over budget and incapable of fully replacing each of the hospitals it was ostensibly designed to replace, we as citizens need to determine (before our politicians do) how we want health-care services to be distributed on island, and what we’re going to do with the hospitals which are to be relocated to the Glen Yard site.

Just to recap, the following hospitals will be relocated:
1. The Montreal Children’s Hospital
2. The Royal Victoria Hospital
3. The Montreal Chest Institute
4. The Shriner’s Hospital
5. The MUHC’s Cancer Centre and their research institute

Thus, those buildings are soon to become vacant, and the citizens of Montreal will have to figure out what to do with so much new empty space. The key here is that this space is institutional in nature; in the case of the Royal Victoria Hospital there’s a stipulation in the deed that the site and buildings must be used either to teach or to heal (or both I guess), but is not to become residential, neither as student housing and certainly not as condos. There’s even a living descendant of Lord Mount Stephen (I think) who has vowed to make sure the stipulation is respected.

The idea of turning these hospitals into residential structures would be in keeping with a developing trend with regards to recycling institutional buildings; churches, convents and schools in Montreal have been so similarly converted. It’s an interesting choice, as most of these old institutional buildings were already designed to house people, or can be easily converted to do so. In other words, it’s a logical and profitable way to respect Montréal’s heritage laws.

But hospitals are very different from schools and churches. The interaction of space and community is far more wide-reaching than a school or a church, and despite being considered public space, convents and monasteries have historically been anything but public. Moreover, unlike schools and churches, hospitals alter traffic systems and city infrastructure systems around them; hospitals are generally built in highly accessible areas and, given that they are 24hr facilities, tend to keep the neighbourhood around them open and accessible throughout the day. In other words, in a moderately depressed urban area, such as the Cabot Square/ Atwater sector, the loss of a hospital may have dire consequences for local small businesses, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a vacant hospital quickly became a gigantic squat. This wouldn’t help the city’s neighbourhood renovation scheme.

Sites for future urban renewal, Cabot Square sector - City of Montréal

So then what of the Children’s?

Children's Hospital, formerly Western General Hospital - not the work of the author

I feel as though the loss of the Children’s Hospital from the Atwater/Cabot area may burden the neighbourhood considerably, but after spending some time in Cabot Square reflecting, I think I’ve got a partial solution.

Given the size of the existing structure, the space on the site where new construction could occur (so as to further increase the density of the site) and it’s relation to Cabot Square, I think the Children’s could be converted to educational purposes. Dawson College is far over capacity and is renting out space in the Forum. I can’t imagine any reason for it not to continue growing; ergo, is it time for a new Dawson campus fronting on Cabot Square? Maybe it doesn’t even need to be Dawson, but an entirely new CEGEP, perhaps a fully bilingual one. I think a Dawson satellite campus makes a lot more sense, and it could be further connected directly to the Atwater Metro station tunnel system.

But then there’s the issue of the area’s many homeless, and for that, I feel the solution may exist a little further down René-Lévesque. The former Maison St-Gregoire, located diagonally across from the CCA East of St-Marc, has been abandoned for a considerably long time. Though currently in private hands, the plans to create viable commercial real estate have so far fallen through. It would be an ideal location, as the building is already designed to be used as a residence, and there’s sufficient space for expansion. Plus, it would pull homeless away from Cabot Square and instead provide a steady source of individuals who will doubtless finally put the CCA sculpture garden to good use.

What do y’all think?

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