Mark Clairmont |

GRAVENHURT — When the MP and MPP fought over a new hospital for Muskoka, Graydon Smith stunned Scott Aitchison by offering free land on Hwy. 11.

The former mayors of Bracebridge and Huntsville came to terms splitting their differences — and thus was born the “one hospital” concept in Port Sydney.

That was about five years ago before both politicians moved on to provincial and federal parliaments.

And before both won out with Premier Doug Ford opting to build two hospitals for Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare in the next decade.

Huntsville District Memorial Hospital’s new building site will remain at its present site just to the east of its present location.

South Muskoka Memorial Hospital’s new home will be elsewhere “within Bracebridge.”

And it’s “vital” it be close to Hwy. 11, MAHC officials re-iterated.

The Town of Bracebridge offered to buy the site owned by Fowler Construction behind Walmart off Pine Street and donate it to MAHC. It is arguably the leading candidate. The closest highway entrance is at the north end of Taylor Road near Walmart, Home Depot and Cedar Lane.

A leading candidate for the new site of the hospital in Bracebridge is Fowler Construction property off Pine Street, behind the Walmart, which could also see Depot Drive expanded into the site.

The top three sites of more than a dozen now (including two new they received at the Huntsville meeting) are the aforementioned Fowler lands Smith originally pitched behind Walmart; the Royale Muskoka lands on the Muskoka River near Bracebridge’s new arena/library complex behind shopping plazas on the west side of town; and a large parcel at the intersection of Hwy. 118 at the south end of Bracebridge near the airport.

Those are the ones that have so far meet the criteria for the new hospital.

They should keep realtors and real estate speculators happy.

The top three sites were presented last night in Gravenhurst. Other sites are still being looked at.

Combined, the two hospitals are the biggest development in the district’s history at a cost that will easily approach $1 billion when built.

While the one-third cost to the residents was mentioned last night in the second of a week of open houses, the focus was for now on where a new SMMH would be built.

Forty-five people were at Gravenhurst’s Terry Fox Auditorium to hear considerations and to make comment on what happens up the road.

Sixty-five attended the same Huntsville presentation the night before.

Bracebridge residents, who will be most affected, get a chance to wade in Saturday afternoon from 2 to 3:30 p.m. at the Rene Caisse Theatre.

Last night’s session, led by MAHC hospital board chair Moreen Miller and CEO/president Cheryl Harrison, laid out the groundwork to date.

Miller asked the obvious questions herself.

Why new hospitals? “Aging infrastructure and new hospital standards like single rooms for patients.”

Why not renovate? “Too expensive; cheaper to build new.”

The presentation included typical questions and answers about the project.

Along with Miller, Harrison and a handful of hospital board members, was consultant Eric Turcotte of Urban Strategies and his team who offered more information to those on hand after the presentation.

It was he who said the board’s build criteria is to have close access to Hwy. 11.

And a minimum 45 acres to allow for future expansion of a “creative campus” that would allow for ancillary health care providers to be located adjacent.

Afterwards, Miller said 45 acres is the least the province calls for to build a “medium-sized” hospital.

She said MAHC’s two hospital foundations are working on a roll-out for the public appeal process to fundraise Muskoka’s share of the cost now at well over $200 million and which has soared the past year or more.

People were later invited to pin-point their preferred location on a map of the town.

Gravenhurst Mayor Heidi Lorenz and a few councillors sat in on the second meeting, which after the 25-minute presentation broke off in to Q&As centred around boards positioned on easels around the room with maps of the key locations under consideration.

But there was little to offer Gravenhurst residents, aside from a new hospital and a location about the same time distance away as the current downtown facility.

Darren Butt and his wife said they were very enthused at the meeting prospect.

A MAHC study group is evaluating the site options and will make its decision known in mid-March with the recommendation going to the hospital board in April.

Construction could start in five or more years with completion by about early 2030.

MAHC takes it show back on the road tonight in Burk’s Falls, followed tomorrow in Lake of Bays, Port Carling Jan. 21, and wrapping up with two online meeting Jan. 23 and 25.

Miller said there will be more public meetings in the months and years ahead.

See more info on this week’s and next week’s meetings and their locations on the MAHC’s project website here.

About 45 people turned out at the Terry Fox Auditorium in Gravenhurst last night, along with hospital and consultant team members.
South Muskoka Memorial Hospital is located downtown Bracebridge and its replacement will be within the town borders.
The timeline to make a public announcement is March and it would go to the MAHC hospital board mid-April.
Following the official remarks, the public was invited to speak with consultants about the proposals.
People were invited pin-point their preferred hospital site location on a map of the town.
Hospital board chair Moreen Miller answers questions from Gravenhurst residents Mary and John Storey following her presentation.
MAHC president and CEO Cheryl Harrison and hospital board member and Gravenhurst resident Marsha Barnes chat with some of those onhand afterwards.
Gravenhurst residents, caught between Bracebridge and Orillia, saw little on offer from their perspective other than a new hospital 10 minutes closer to home.


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