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Group calls the possible demolition of Stratford’s first public hospital ‘a waste of history’

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Heritage advocates are trying to put a stop to an open bid to demolish Stratford’s first public hospital but the organization that owns the building believes it doesn’t make financial sense to try to preserve it.

Avon Crest Hospital, located on John Street South, was built 132 years ago in 1891 and currently sits across the street from Stratford General Hospital.

Retired architect Robert Lemon is part of a group called Save Avon Crest. Its members are trying to stop the demolition of the hospital.

“Not just saving the building, but preserving the building and repurposing it,” Lemon told CTV News.

The Huron Perth Healthcare Alliance (HPHA) owns the building and has started taking bids for the job of tearing it down. But Save Avon Crest members are hoping that doesn’t happen.

“There's a petition with well over 800 names on it that's circulating. People from across Canada are interested in this building because it's one of the few surviving hospitals that was designed – this late 19th century period that still survives,” Lemon said.

Lemon also cited environmental concerns.

“We're right adjacent to the Avon River so we're concerned there may be environmental consequences for demolition activity that might affect the Upper Thames water authority,” he said.

Lemon believes the building holds so much history that it helped the community take shape.

“Demolition is an act of violence,” Lemon said, recalling a French architecture firm’s philosophy that is against demolishing buildings. “It's a waste of energy. It's a waste of materials. It's a waste of history.”

The group is suggesting the building be repurposed as a hospice, Ronald McDonald House or even a hotel for families visiting loved ones at Stratford General Hospital.

But the HPHA said financially it isn’t feasible.

“We've had some estimates done on the building that show about $24 million required just to bring it up to code. And that would not include any repurposing costs that would be necessary from a developer point of view,” said Andrew Williams, the CEO of the HPHA.

Avon Crest’s physical location, right in the middle of a large property, has made heritage preservation even trickier.

“Having the building on it the way it is would be a deal breaker with anybody willing to come onto the property and partner with us,” said Williams.

The HPHA said they would entertain a reasonable solution to preserving the building.

But time could be running out.

“The tender is currently active and our hope would be to award in March and secure necessary permits at that time,” Williams said.

As for what the HPHA plans to do with the site, Williams said nothing is set in stone yet but added, “future development will need to support the health and wellness needs of our community.”

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