Tribune Explains: McGill’s New Vic Project

After the site was decommissioned in 2015, McGill has launched a proposal to renovate part of the Royal Victoria Hospital to create a state-of-the-art research, teaching, and learning hub dedicated to Sustainability Systems and Public Policy. The project was named the New Vic Project, and construction on the old Royal Victoria Hospital is planned to start in January of 2023. 

What is McGill looking to achieve with the New Vic project?

McGill is renovating only part of the Royal Victoria site and is working under the Societe Quebecoise des Infrastructures’ (SQI) oversight. Dean of the Faculty of Science and Academic Lead of McGill’s New Vic Project Prof. Bruce Lennox and Director of Community Relations Carole Graveline hope that the project will foster increased collaboration between students and professors, with a focus on sustainability in both the buildings’ laboratories and classrooms. 

The Royal Victoria Hospital’s history

Since its founding in 1893, the old Royal Victoria Hospital, on the corner of Pine and University Ave, has been dedicated to providing medical care. The hospital’s goal of healing extended beyond its patients; its founders wished that the site would be used to heal society and the planet through medical research and education in perpetuity. The hospital is currently being used as a COVID-19 isolation unit for those who are homeless and either infected with the virus or awaiting their test results. The hospital will operate this way until Spring 2021. In 2018, the government of Quebec announced they would cede part of the site to McGill and were also granting $37 million to help fund the renovation plans.  

Community feedback and student concerns over the project

Some students, however, are skeptical of the project’s supposed sustainability. In a Nov. 16 roundtable between the McGill administration and student media, students juxtaposed the project’s ethos of environmental consciousness with McGill’s investment in fossil fuel companies and questioned whether this presented a contradiction. Lennox believes the New Vic Project still stands in tandem with the university’s commitments to environmentalism and climate change mitigation through research. 

“I don’t see a contradiction,” Lennox said. “Many of the touch-points and eventual outcomes of research in sustainability have to do with energy use. There is a tremendous commitment in sustainability research at McGill to redirect energy use from all of its conventional sources, but those conventional sources aren’t just for energy use, they’re also for materials.”

During the roundtable discussion, students also spoke to the concern that the decision to partake in a project could potentially disadvantage Montreal’s unhoused population. Lennox said that McGill did not have jurisdiction over the parts of the hospital that are currently being used as shelters. 

“The buildings that we are currently designing for McGill occupancy, eventually ownership and then occupancy, do not include the Women’s Pavilion, the Ross Pavilion, and the Heresy,” Lennox said. “It’s my understanding that the Ross Pavilion is being used for these groups, so it’s out of our jurisdiction, and that building will remain under the control of the SQI past the completion of our project.”

Anti-privatization September 2020 protests

On Sept. 4, local residents and some McGill students demonstrated outside the old Royal Victoria Hospital out of concern that the hospital could be sold to private developers. Protesters claimed that discontinuing the hospital as a shelter for the unhoused population could present adverse impacts on the community by hiking up rent prices in the surrounding area and pricing out low-income residents.  

When will the construction on the old Royal Victoria Hospital start?

Lennox explained that details on the project are largely unknown to the community thus far. He hopes that upcoming information sessions and greater communication between the McGill community, students, professors, and members of the New Vic Project team will clear up controversies on this issue. Construction is slated to start January 2023.

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