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Dawsonites divided over hospital location

There's a fight brewing in Dawson City over the location of a new $25-million hospital. The proposed two-storey facility is to be put behind the museum, on a lot where an old playground currently stands.

There’s a fight brewing in Dawson City over the location of a new $25-million hospital.

The proposed two-storey facility is to be put behind the museum, on a lot where an old playground currently stands.

The lot is also adjacent to historic Minto Park, Dawson’s biggest green space and the home to the main tent of the Dawson City Music Festival.

Dawsonites have responded to the proposed location with a flurry of concerns. One of the biggest is that the hospital location would disrupt the music festival.

But that won’t happen, said Craig Tuton, chair of the Yukon Hospital Corporation.

“During the music festival, we wouldn’t be working. We’d take a break.”

Residents such as Shirley Pennell are not persuaded. She worries that, even if the next festival goes off without a hitch, having a hospital so close to the park would ensure the festival is eventually displaced.

“Hospitals have quiet zones,” she said. “I happen to believe that if the hospital were to go there, you can kiss the music festival goodbye.”

Much of the discontent seems to stem from how Dawsonites were never offered a public meeting to discuss the hospital location.

The territorial government owns the lot in question, which is already zoned to allow, among other things, construction of a hospital. No development permit has yet been submitted to the city.

The hospital corporation recently met with residents to discuss the project, but by then the location had already been decided.

“We, as citizens, have not had our kick at the can,” said Pennell.

The hospital corporation recently put out a tender to design the new facility, which will replace Dawson’s aging nursing station. It hopes to start construction next summer and have the facility complete by late December of 2011.

The facility would hold six day-beds and an emergency room. Patients would still be sent to Whitehorse for births and surgeries, except during emergencies.

The hospital, with an area of 2,100 square metres, would also include rooms for public health, doctors’ offices and an ambulance bay, said Tuton.

Residents fear the hospital may later expand and eat away at Minto Park, which is named after Lord Minto, who was Canada’s Governor General from 1989 to 1903.

But the project won’t extend beyond the white picket fence that currently separates the playground from the park, said Tuton.

Traffic and parking are other concerns. Opponents of the current location would prefer to see the hospital put on the old grader lot on the corner of Fifth and Turner. They argue this site is better positioned to handle traffic to the hospital.

But there are conflicting plans to use the grader lot as a home for social housing units being build with federal stimulus money.

Mayor John Steins said he’s torn over the project.

He welcomes new infrastructure for the community and the construction jobs that it brings. But “my personal preference would have been to have a discussion with all stakeholders and citizens” about the hospital’s location, he said.

Dawson has long been promised a new hospital facility. For years these plans have been put on hold.

Residents who support the project have warned at public meetings that fighting the location could mean losing the hospital altogether.

But critics, like Pennell, ask why the territory is rushing to build the hospital.

The project, she notes, is not tied to federal stimulus spending, so it does not have any firm deadline to spend money.

Instead, the project is being privately financed by the Yukon Hospital Corporation.

“They’re spending our tax dollars on this

project and yet we’re getting no say as to where it goes,” said Pennell.

“Why are they in such a hurry?”

Contact John Thompson at