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Province completes land deal in Fort McMurray, making way for seniors’ housing

Watch above: The need for more seniors’ care in Fort McMurray is getting desperate. Many have been forced to uproot and leave the city in order find proper facilities over the year. But as Eric Szeto reports, there was finally some positive news this week.

EDMONTON — After years of delays and land disputes, Fort McMurray residents are hopeful construction on a new seniors’ care facility will finally begin.

In an announcement made late last week, the provincial government said it had completed a deal to purchase the four-acre Willow Square site from the federal government. The government says it will now transfer the land to the Wood Buffalo Housing and Development Corporation to develop self-contained apartments and lodge units for low-income residents and seniors.

“Alberta families and seniors deserve accessible, comfortable and affordable housing options close to home,” said Premier Jim Prentice. “This agreement will provide the municipality with the tools it needs to meet the community’s varied housing needs.”

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A lack of long-term care in the northern Alberta community has been a concern for residents for years. The local hospital is currently the only facility that offers long-term care. The hope is the new development will be an age-in-place facility where seniors can still live on their own, but can get the help they need as they transition from independent to assisted living.

“I think this is a first step to have local autonomy,” said Iris Kirschner.

The Fort McMurray woman and her family have had a tough few years, after her mother fell ill and ended up in hospital. She died while waiting for long-term care at another facility. In the meantime, Iris’s husband, Dave, was diagnosed with a terminal illness. Feeling they had no other option, the couple moved to Edmonton in 2013, leaving their children and grandchildren behind.

“We knew what the reality of staying in Fort McMurray was and so we just thought that that was a real sign that we needed to go somewhere where Dave would have the dignity and privacy and the care that his condition requires,” Iris said Sunday.

“It’s like having our heart ripped out of us. I’m fortunate enough to get to go back, but Dave can’t, so that makes it tough.”

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The province also announced Friday it would provide $3.2 million in funding to the Wood Buffalo Housing and Development Corporation to develop the site.

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“This is something that many in the Fort McMurray area have been working toward for a very long time,” Don Scott, MLA Fort McMurray-Conklin, said Friday. Scott was speaking on behalf of Seniors Minister Jeff Johnson, who was unable to make the announcement due to poor road conditions.

“We know there is a direct connection between having safe and stable housing and a person’s overall wellbeing. Developing the Willow Square land is one tool the community has to meet its varied housing needs.”

READ MORE: Alberta government announces more cash for rural senior lodges

While the announcement is welcome news to Iris and Dave, they still have hesitations.

“It’s been eight years since they promised this. I don’t know if the politicians have the will to act,” said Dave, a former councillor for the municipality,

“Now we have to go through community consultation so it’s still not a given that we’re going to have it,” added Iris. “We really need our community to get behind the seniors and understand that this is a need and a priority in our community.

“Whatever it is, we need to work together as a community and not point fingers at each other, but hold hands together and build this.”

The facility will be mixed use and offer retail and office space in addition to seniors care. Shovels likely won’t be in the ground before spring 2016.

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Another long-term care facility is on the way for the area, the Parsons Creek development, which is expected to have 100 beds.

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