The $20 million demolition of the Michener north site has begun, with excavators tearing up parking lots and some trees between the buildings.
Workers in white haz-mat suits were seen entering and exiting empty buildings at the site on Monday as hazardous materials are being removed prior to demolition.
Trucks are already bringing clean soil to the site, as an excavator started tearing up the old, cracked concrete parking lots.
Some large trees were felled between the buildings. But Alberta Infrastructure spokesperson Hadyn Place said the only trees being brought down are those that will be in the way, or cause a safety concern, when the buildings are levelled.
The presence of asbestos and the deteriorated state of the structures is expected to add complexity and lengthen the time for the project which should be mostly completed by mid-2022, according to Alberta Infrastructure.
While some local residents expressed nostalgia for the Michener grounds on the Abandoned Michener Facebook page, and questioned why the buildings could not have been put to other uses, the government stated they were too far gone to repurpose and demolition was the cheapest, safest option.
From 85 to 100 jobs are expected to be created from the abatement, demolition, site reclamation, and interim security.
The City of Red Deer later intends to incorporate the site into the Waskasoo Park system.
Not everyone has fond memories of the Michener Centre, the institution for people with developmental disabilities, however.
The book A Special Hell: Institutional Life in Alberta’s Eugenic Years, by Claudia Malacrida, recounts the darker history of the institution, which includes the mandatory sterilizations of former residents.
In 2013, the Alberta government announced the closure of the Michener Centre, although the decision was later partially reversed. By 2015 the few remaining residents who were not moved to group homes were transferred from the north site to the south campus.
Place said the province is working with the City of Red Deer to ensure the north site demolition project is completed with as little disruption as possible to surrounding neighbours.
The access around the fenced off site on the west side is now partially inaccessible to walkers. Areas are being fenced off in accordance with Occupational Health and Safety guidelines.