Pioneer Lodge dollars on hold for two years

by Phil Ambroziak

The New Year will not bring with it a new Northland Pioneer Lodge.

That’s how things appeared following a recent Prairie North Regional Health Authority (PNRHA) board meeting when it was announced the City of Meadow Lake and the RM of Meadow Lake would be unable to commit financially to the construction of the new facility for at least two years

“Each municipality has its own unique challenges to deal with first,” explained Meadow Lake mayor Gary Vidal. “This does not mean the new lodge isn’t an important project because it certainly is. But, the city and the RM have reached a joint agreement that neither of us will likely be in a position to commit to the lodge financially for two years.”

The major priority for the city, Vidal continued, is the completion of the 9th Avenue lift station, a project the mayor would like to see underway by spring.

“That is something we want to have looked after first, plus we’re also likely to run into other surprises,” he said.

Meanwhile, RM of Meadow Lake reeve Rodger Zuchotzki said he would like to see some more concrete plans in place before his municipality will contribute toward 20 per cent of the overall building.

“It’s still premature to know how much it’s actually going to cost, but something of this magnitude is going to be fairly astronomical,” Zuchotzki said. “It also won’t be a facility that will service only people from the RM and Meadow Lake. It will be used by people from across the Northwest, so why should our taxpayers be the ones who are solely responsible? There needs to be a broader spectrum in terms of how it can be paid for.”

The new lodge, which is expected to be built off Highway 4 North across from the city’s cemetery, was originally supposed to include 60 beds and cost around $25 million. Last summer, however, PNRHA officials suggested the possibility of 75 beds at a cost of $29 million. Whichever route is ultimately taken would require the city and the RM to cover 20 per cent of the overall cost. The remainder would be funded by the province.

In addition to this, the city would also be responsible for 100 per cent of furnishing and equipment costs. This would mean an additional $1.5 million, money Vidal believes can be secured through various fundraising initiatives.

“Prairie North has offered to take the lead on fundraising, but it would only go toward the furnishing and equipment costs,” he said. “Our share of the cost of the actual building would have to come from whatever resources the city and the RM have available.”

While this news from the city and RM is expected to delay construction, Vidal said he has assurances from the province it will not have a long-term impact on the project as a whole. PNRHA officials also remain committed to the project, saying both planning and fundraising efforts would continue in the interim.

“We appreciate the challenges the city and RM face, but it is disappointing for us because this project was first approved in 2008 and we’ve been working on plans for a number of years,” remarked PNRHA CEO David Fan. “We were hoping to proceed with tender calls and construction some time this year, but obviously that is not going to happen. We will continue to do other things associated with the project, however, including a local fundraising campaign.”

Because of the amount of money needed for equipment and furnishings, Fan said it could take some time to raise the funds.
In the meantime, all parties agree a new long-term care facility is something long overdue and would be a welcome addition to Meadow Lake.

“The existing facility is not sufficient,” Zuchotzki said. “It’s cold and is not a friendly environment. It (new lodge) is definitely warranted, but there are still a lot of logistics that need to be laid out.”

“We all agree on this project’s importance and value, but we have to put things in the right order and make sure we’re doing what works best for our taxpayers,” Vidal added.

The Meadow Lake and Area Community Health Advisory Network (CHAN) is holding a public informational meeting Feb. 4 from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the Jonas Samson Junior High School theatre. The new long-term care facility and its concept of care will be discussed that night.

“During this meeting, we will make a presentation on the design of the new facility,” Fan said. “We have an obligation to inform the public, to get them excited about the project and to fundraise. That’s what we will do in the meantime, along with continuing our discussions with the municipalities in an effort to come up with a plan going forward.”

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