The redevelopment of Valley Manor entered its next phase Thursday when the officials at the long-term care facility in Barry’s Bay received the demolition permit to proceed with the demolition of the former Sherwood Public School, the site of the new manor. Board chair, Kathy Marion, left, and vice-chair, Robert Cihelka, right, look on as CEO Tisha Deslaurier accepts the permit from Donovan Ott, of Jp2g Consulting in Pembroke.

Barry’s Bay – The long-awaited and highly anticipated redevelopment of the Valley Manor long-term care home entered its next phase last Friday as staff and members of the board gathered at the site of the new facility, the former Sherwood Public School.

Valley Manor Chief Executive Officer, Trisha Deslauriers, board chair Kathy Marion and vice-chair Robert Cihelka were present when a representative from J2pg Consultants in Pembroke handed over the demolition permit, allowing the former school to be demolished.

Ms. Deslaurier said although it was some time occurring, it was a very significant step in the redevelopment project that was first discussed some 10 years ago.

“This is the first step to what has been a long preparatory project and this is the initial stage of the demolition and we’re very excited to be starting this phase,” she commented. “We’re thrilled to be able to be doing this today.

 “This formalizes we are starting the abatement and everything this week and we hope to have everything wrapped up by the first week of October. And it should be completed by early October.”

Schouten Excavating Inc. of Watford, Ontario, the company that was contracted for the demolition, started the abatement process early last week and when completed, the demolition will commence.

The former school, located adjacent to St. Francis Memorial Hospital (SFMH), had been the earliest educational environment for many local families, and officials from both Valley Manor and SFMH felt it was important to advise the neighbouring population around the school of what would be happening this fall.

“We had a very successful meeting with the neighbourhood and the community about three weeks ago and let them know about the project,” Ms. Deslaurier explained. “So everybody is well informed.”

She said while not required, the meeting was held as a courtesy, adding there were a lot of questions posed. There were some suggestions made as to how the communication between the groups could proceed going forward.    

“We’re going to work closely with them step-by-step through the entire project,” she said.

She explained hospital officials were involved as well and discussed their project regarding the expansion of the emergency department with them.

“They were here with us and we wanted to capture all of the information in one location for the neighbourhood.”

Ms. Deslaurier said the decision to locate the new facility at the former school site was undoubtedly an easy decision to make.

“Particularly with the healthcare landscape and the Ontario health teams and the fact everybody needs to start collaborating instead of working in silos. It was a no-brainer to partner beside the hospital and make everything more accessible.”    

She noted that with a couple of major funding announcements towards the project made in 2020 by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, now the on-site work is getting started. 

“This project has taken so far, almost up to 10 years,” she said. “There’s been a lot of changes with funding formulas and the Ministry of Health requirements for redevelopment.

“It has been challenging but we’re really happy to be able to get to this phase,” she added.      

  Ms. Deslaurier said the contract for the demolition was approximately $250,000, adding while manor officials hoped to keep the job local, the few bids that were submitted by local companies were not within their budget.

She said the pandemic has set the project back quite significantly, noting it resulted in a review of the designs of the new facility to incorporate any of the new pandemic protocols which were not included in the initial drawings.  

She admitted being unsure just how long the project might be delayed due to that.

“It’s kind of like a moving target right now. It can go anywhere from a year to a year-and-a-half with the delays from the pandemic.”

Ms. Deslaurier said they are hoping the entire project will be completed by 2025.

The new facility will have 96 beds, up six from the current facility.

She said the need for the redevelopment of the manor was necessitated because there has been a complete reversal of the needs of the residents from when it was originally built, a trend not unique to Valley Manor.

“When it first opened 40 some years ago it only had about two people that were non-independent and the other 88 were more independent. What we have now is maybe two residents that can ambulate independently and the level of acuity of care has increased immensely.

“We don’t have the infrastructure in the facility and the other 88 residents all require heavy assistance, so there’s a definite need for improvement to accommodate the needs of the future,” she added.

Mrs. Marion, the longtime chair of the board, said negotiations for the former school property started four or five years ago after the Renfrew County District School Board closed the facility and incorporated the students into Madawaska Valley District High School.

“I think it was three years after the school was vacated that we started negotiations,” she said. “We had to pay market value for the property, but we were fortunate to get this because it’s going to be a part of a health hub in the community that I think is going to be really worthwhile.”

It was a somewhat bittersweet day for Mrs. Marion Friday, who had a personal connection to Sherwood as a former trustee and chair of the RCDSB.

“When I look at the newer part to Sherwood School, when I was first on the school board, that was opened (around 1980). That was probably one of my first official functions.”

She noted many families have personal connections to the school, including families of people like the late Edna Cybulskie, who was first principal there for many years.           

“Some of her family are around and I think it will be kind of a sad day for people like that when the building comes down,” she added.

Ms. Deslaurier said staff and residents at the facility are eager now that this next phase is commencing.

“We are really looking forward to getting into a new facility in order to accommodate the higher needs and have the top-of-the-line equipment and facilities to be able to serve the residents of our community.”

She said they found the original shovel that was used for the ground-breaking ceremony when the manor was first built and it will be used to turn the soil when the actual construction of the new facility begins. Unfortunately there will be gap between when the demolition is completed and construction will start.