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Royal Victoria Hospital (Jack Neal / McGill Tribune)

The future of the RVH site

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In September, Principal Suzanne Fortier announced the creation of the principal’s task force on the academic vision and mission of the Royal Victoria Hospital (RVH) site. According to the task force’s website, it is an initiative to involve community members at McGill in determining the details of the potential purchase of and usages for the former hospital building and grounds. Since the RVH moved its operations to the  McGill University Health Centre’s (MUHC) Glen site and vacated its former location at Rue University and Avenue des Pins, McGill has been exploring if the site is suitable for purchase, and how to potentially make use of the space.

Vice-Principal (Administration and Finance) Michael di Grappa explained the current study goes beyond determining feasibility.

“There [are] many other reports in there […] to do with the condition of the building, but also to do with […] issues of the specific site,” di Grappa said. “[These include] green space, environmental issues, how one would access the site, [and] how one would move material during the period of construction.”

Student involvement in the project so far has been limited, explained Arts Senator Erin Sobat, undergraduate representative to the principal’s task force.

“What we’d like to see is […] a framework for a way for students to be as involved as possible,” said Sobat.

Discussion of what the site could be used for is one of the task force’s largest concerns.

“[McGill has] done space audits, so they know in terms of square footage which departments, which faculties, [and]which units need or have the most space,” Sobat said. “A large portion of the site is heritage buildings, that can’t just be demolished —nor would we want [them to be ….] The goal is […] to really look ahead at what kind of spaces McGill will need in terms of academics, admissions, research, interdisciplinary research, and how that’s really changing over the next 20 to 50 years.”

Sobat also spoke of the idea of using the buildings for potential student spaces, with other complexes on campus as a model for development.

“A good example […] is that the Engineering [Undergraduate] Student Society has quite a lot of student spaces in the McConnell Building that are used not just for lounge spaces, but for research, for development, for design teams, [things] that that are pretty much tied to the academic role of that faculty,” Sobat said. “And a lot of other faculties could use those spaces.”

As of now, there is little underway in terms of a concrete plan to involve student consultation in the acquisition process, according to Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Vice-President (VP) University Affairs, Chloe Rourke.

“My understanding is that the task force will be undertaking expansive consultation efforts over the coming year” Rourke said. “SSMU will certainly be promoting these avenues for consultation and feedback to our members in order to ensure a vision is developed that respects the needs and interests of undergraduate students.”

According to Rourke, acquiring the RVH could provide the university with more space than needed.

“McGill is looking for potential partnerships to share and develop the site,” she said.  “McGill only requires about two-thirds of the site to meet current and future space needs.”

The financing of the initial feasibility study will be split between the Quebec government and McGill, and according to di Grappa, the purchase of the site itself will come at no cost to McGill.

“What we have said to the government all along is that this will be a very expensive project, and we would like to discuss what financing will look like,” said Di Grappa.  “Anything the government would charge us for purchasing the building, that would be much less money than would be involved in the renovation and construction on the site.  So we have asked that the site effectively be turned over to us for a dollar, and that McGill spend whatever it’s prepared to invest in the actual transformation of the property.”

At this time, the RVH property is still not a definite acquisition.

“It’s not a done deal, not a for sure thing,”  Sobat said. “McGill has been very clear that they have requirements that they have to see fulfilled by the government in order to take on the project.”

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