The city is finalizing the purchase of the north end of the Michener lands, a 132-acre parcel that boasts connections to the Waskasoo Park and trail system and contains natural wetlands.
Demolition of vacant buildings will begin later this year by the province at the 55th Street site.
The north end of the parcel has been unoccupied since 2015, but the Michener lands continue to be a popular area for walkers, people with dogs, runners and cyclists.
“As the province decides on the future of the existing buildings and site, opportunity exists for the city to mark a significant piece of Red Deer’s history and protect these impeccable public lands for Red Deerians for generations to come,” Mayor Tara Veer said in a statement Friday.
“The land provides opportunity to commemorate the past, while providing for future public use opportunities for our citizens. The Michener lands are public, and should remain a public asset,” Veer said.
The city recently purchased the J.J. Gaetz House and the escarpment. Originally a private residence, the house became part of the Michener Centre in 1939.
The house is currently a municipal designated heritage site under the Historic Resources Act. It could potentially offer a future home for an interpretive visual history of the lands, says the city.
The site has a long past, starting with the construction of the Alberta Ladies College in 1912-13, which was later turned into a sanatorium for shell-shocked soldiers.
In 1923, the province opened an institution for children with mental disabilities, and later a facility for adults.
In the early 1970s, it was home to 2,200 people and hundreds of people worked on site. It was renamed Michener Centre in 1977.
The 16 buildings on the north end were shuttered after then-Premier Alison Redford announced in 2013 that the centre would close, and the 100 remaining residents were being moved.
After the community rallied against the closure, then-Premier Jim Prentice reversed the decision and allowed residents to stay.
Historian and city councillor Michael Dawe said acquiring the land is an investment in the city’s future.
“The opportunity to do some beneficial things for the community is huge,” Dawe said.
“With the city involved, it gives us a lot of say as to how much goes to park land, how much will be used for other purposes, and how much will be developed in more traditional ways.”
Redevelopment won’t be quick, but rather a long-term project, he said.
“Given the amount of time involved in planning, public consultations, and the general state of the economy, it’s going to take quite a while. We’re not going to see dramatic changes starting next spring. That just isn’t in the books.”
As for the buildings scheduled for demolition, they have deteriorated and there’s been vandalism. The only money spent has been on security, Dawe said.
“People have to realize how long some of those buildings have sat vacant.”