Lifestyles

GREEN SCENE: What's the future of Riverview?

The 244 acres of Riverview Hospital in Coquitlam are up for discussion for possible redevelopment. - tri-CITY NEWS FILE PHOTO
The 244 acres of Riverview Hospital in Coquitlam are up for discussion for possible redevelopment.
— image credit: tri-CITY NEWS FILE PHOTO

With planning for the future of Riverview Hospital now hastily convened, the fate of this spectacular site has finally reached a crossroads.

The first open house was held Thursday evening while a second open house will take place tomorrow (Saturday) from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Centennial Pavilion at 620 Poirier St. in Coquitlam.

Riverview, which served the province as a much-needed mental health care facility for almost a century (1913-2012), has much to offer on its 100-hectare grounds, with its heritage buildings, gracious landscapes and world-class collection of trees.

But with planning for its future uses now under the guidance of BC Housing, many people in the community are feeling anxious about its prospects.

After all, it is not as if there is no longer a need for innovative mental health care services in our community. Sadly, far too many of our mentally ill are living lives of desperation on our streets and in our ravines. While modern drugs offer some hope for mental health treatment, not all such problems can be fixed by taking a pill.

People suffering from severe mental illnesses are unable to take prescribed drugs on their own volition and these people need stable, longer term care in a facility such as Riverview — not overnight confinement in jail.

A study in Surrey showed police spent more than $600,000 over five years to respond to 1,500 calls to deal with just eight people who, in a more humane world, would have been received treatment within the mental health care system. Would it not be more effective and caring to provide health care in a proper facility? Why have we allowed mental health care to become a police problem?

As our society ages, we will also be facing increased demands for residential care for the elderly. Once again, Riverview, with its park-like setting, would be an ideal place to offer such services.

Not too long ago, the modern Valleyview facility at Riverview provided assessment services for dementia patients. Despite the urgent need for such facilities, Valleyview, with space for at least 150 beds, was closed in late 2011.

While I was pleased to learn the Fraser Health Authority plans to open a new 237 complex care bed facility in Port Coquitlam, I have to wonder why the more tranquil (and already government-owned) setting of Riverview was not considered to be a more appropriate site. Riverview would certainly be a more convenient location for the 76 people who will be forced to move from the Burquitlam Lions Care Centre in Coquitlam to the new site in Port Coquitlam.

People who attend the open houses will be asked for their ideas for the future development of Riverview, which was listed as the Heritage Canada Foundation’s most endangered heritage site in 2012. While asking for input from the public seems like a sensible idea, I worry the province has already hugely constrained the planning process by requiring that all costs associated with future use, such as infrastructure upgrades, must come from revenue generated by the property.

Since when have we asked that hospitals, long-term care facilities and other amenities that provide so much benefit to society be expected to pay their own costs?

These two open houses will be the first of four meetings over the coming year. And people will apparently have only one week after the open houses to submit their ideas through the website. Again, I am concerned this is far too short a time period to generate substantive ideas. If, as many in the community fear, developers have been waiting in the wings with well-formulated proposals of their own, it will be all too easy for such plans to take precedence.

Apparently, all the buildings at Riverview have been assessed with regard to their condition and costs to repair, and these are listed on the website. Nonetheless, a number of significant buildings, such as Valleyview, do not appear on this list.

As well, some results of this assessment baffle me. For example, the Henry Esson Young building, a modern structure with pleasant classrooms and auditoriums that was in regular use up to 2012, has been assessed as being in “poor” condition, which is, apparently, the same state as West Lawn, the first building constructed at Riverview in 1913 and abandoned since 1983. Could this be a ploy to convince us that demolition is the only solution?

For all those who care about Riverview and its future, now is most definitely the time to speak up.

 

Elaine Golds is a Port Moody environmentalist who is conservation/education chair of the Burke Mountain Naturalists, chair of the Colony Farm Park Association and a founding director of the board of the Port Moody Ecological Society.

 

 

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