Ground breaks for new cancer centre

City says expanded parking should have been part of project’s planning

City officials say concrete plans for expanded parking should have been developed in tandem with construction of a $59.56 million cancer centre near the hospital.

Ground was broken recently for the Central Alberta Cancer Centre, which is part of the province’s plan to open a ‘corridor’ of cancer treatment centres across Alberta including centres in Lethbridge and Grande Prairie.

Prior to this, patients had to travel to Calgary or Edmonton for radiation therapy.

But providing a permanent parking structure isn’t part of the plan.

City Manager Craig Curtis said the construction of such a structure has been under discussion for years.

“We feel the parking structure is long overdue,” said Curtis. “It’s a priority and the province should have considered the two together.

“It doesn’t seem inherently logical to not deal with the two (projects) concurrently.”

The new Centre will feature added forms of treatment and examination rooms, outpatient clinics, a medical day unit, radiation therapy and a pharmacy. Treatments for multiple cancers, including lung, breast, gastrointestinal and prostate will be offered as well.

“This will be a state-of-the-art facility where central Albertans will be able to access top quality care,” said Ken Hughes, AHS board chair. “Albertans should – and will – be able to receive quality cancer care closer to their communities. This, in turn, will relieve pressure at other Alberta cancer facilities and improve access for all Albertans.”

Meanwhile, the facility was originally approved by the Municipal Planning Commission last month. The parking issue for both hospital staff and patients was raised at that time as well, and MPC heard that Alberta Health Services had contracted with nearby Bettenson’s Holdings for the lease of space for 180 stalls starting this November.

As part of the conditions for the development permit to move ahead, MPC also decided that the parking area should be hard-surfaced within one year.

Also helping make up for lost stalls during construction is the Traveler’s Inn on Gaetz Ave. A contract, to be renewed yearly if necessary, has been set up with the Inn for 50 parking stalls for use by hospital staff.

But as Curtis points out, ultimately, a permanent parkade-type structure is simply necessary.

This would also help alleviate the inevitable overflow parking on nearby neighbourhood streets. Currently, there are two-hour limits on some of the nearby routes and parking meters on others.

Curtis also pointed out that a parking structure isn’t something that would demand a chunk of funding without any sort of return.

“There would be a charge for the parking so there is a cost-recovery to it,” he said. “It’s not a structure that wouldn’t have a revenue stream to it.”

At last month’s MPC meeting, John Eadie, director of project management for rural Alberta with AHS, said his department was pushing hard for a permanent, multi-storey parkade down the road.

For now, local patients applaud the construction of the Central Alberta Cancer Centre, pointing out that less travel reduces stress when one is fighting disease.

“Fighting cancer is stressful enough without having to travel for treatment and leave your loved ones behind,” said Stacy Larsen, a local cancer patient who recently travelled to Edmonton for radiation therapy.

“I am very pleased that the cancer centre in Red Deer is expanding. All of central Alberta will benefit.”

Brenda Hubley, lead for the radiation therapy corridor project, said radiation typically takes only half an hour so patients undergoing treatments would either have to daily travel to Edmonton or Calgary or stay in either city for several days at a time.

She said the new facility will of course change all that, saving patients hours, days and weeks away from their families and support systems during their most vulnerable times.

The Central Alberta Cancer Centre should be completed by January of 2013.

mweber@reddeerexpress.com

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