By Joshua Weinberger
After a four-year delay, the Centretown Community Health Centre on Cooper Street is inching closer to officially announcing the start of a major renovation project.
“We expect to get the Ministry of Health’s approval very soon,” said Simone Thibault, executive director of the CCHC. And when approval comes through, just about everything will change.
The narrow hallways of the single-storey facility will be widened, most of the rooms will be enlarged, and the existing maze-like layout will be given an open-concept look.
“There are about three or four phases, so it will – we predict – take a good 18 months,” said Thibault. “While we renovate, we will be moving some of our staff off site and some of our programs, like our medical clinic, to a different space (within the building).”
To alleviate public concern over reduced services, the CCHC has partnered with other community health centres in the downtown area, including the Somerset West Community Health Centre in Chinatown.
Still, the renovations, according to Thibault, are worth the trouble.
“It’s a bit of a short-term pain for a big gain — for the community and our clients to have a space that they can embrace and that really better meets their needs,” she said. “We are hoping people will be very patient.”
In 1999, minor modifications to the building’s interiors were made. At the time, however, accessibility and safety standards were different, and the range of social services then offered to the public was narrower.
“When we started here, we might have had a little over 70 staff. Now we have over 150 staff, and we have a lot more programs than we did in the past,” Thibault said.
During an open house on Jan. 30, residents had the chance to review detailed prints of the design plans. Joanne Kilby-Coulas, a Centretown resident who has taken full advantage of the facility’s cooking programs, said she was pleased with the planned makeover.
“This community has been growing a lot in population in the six years that I’ve lived here, so the need is there,” she said.
Being visually impaired, she arrived at the open house somewhat worried about the entire renovation process, but left excited.
“My biggest thing is that the centre will be renovated so well that it’s going to be accessible to everyone,” she said. “Once it’s all done, it’s going to be the greatest thing ever in this community, and I’m happy.”
For Linda Wilson, a retired federal public servant, the overhaul carries extra meaning.
“It’s gratifying to see,” said Wilson, who has served on the CCHC’s board of directors since 2012. “A lot of very tough work was done through the last six months.”
That will clearly continue, she said, as management tries to minimize inconvenience for its 15,000 or so clients.
“At the end of the day, we will be coming out of this with a centre that is better designed and organized to serve our community.”
The Government of Ontario is providing most of the funding, with a small contribution from the City of Ottawa. The renovations are to conclude in 2019, when staff will be celebrating the centre’s 50th anniversary.