Addiction treatment centre proponents present project, answer councillors’ questions
Representatives from La Fondation L'Ange Gardien were present at the most recent Champlain Township council meeting on October 10 to outline a proposed addiction treatment centre, slated for the former convent in Vankleek Hill.
The council chamber was filled with local residents who had come to find out more about the proposed facility, to be located at 159 Higginson Street in Vankleek Hill.
Pierre Mercier, from McIntosh Perry Consulting and Alain Champagne, general manager of the proposed centre, spent about 15 minutes explaining the project to council, after which councillors asked questions.
Champlain Township Mayor Gary Barton explained that no application for a zoning change had been received by the township but that if there is an application made, it will be advertised, residents within a prescribed distance of the property would be notified and there would be a public meeting at which people could speak for or against the proposed zoning change.
The convent property is currently for sale, listed at $1.25 million and the addiction treatment centre use would require a zoning amendment to include institutional use. The amendment could effectively re-assign the original zoning to the property.
Mercier told council that there has been no zoning amendment application or site plan agreement because the developers wanted to meet with council and the public before proceeding.
"We will be meeting with members of the public at the Vankleek Hill Curling Club so that people will have the chance to talk one-on-one with foundation members," Mercier said.
While the proposed date conflicted with council's meeting schedule, a new date of Monday, October 29 has been set for the open house meeting at the Vankleek Hill Curling Club. Representatives from the proposed addiction treatment centre board and staff will be present from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. to meet with local residents.
Robert Prevost, director of operations and a Dr. Kaufman, clinical director of the centre, were to have been present but did not attend the council meeting.
Champagne emphasized that the addiction treatment centre was, "not a halfway house, not a group home, not a detention centre. We are a treatment and recovery centre. Mainly we do deal with drug or alcohol addictions, but we can deal with all kinds of addicition. All the people who work at the centre are fully qualified."
"What do we do at the centre? There is individual planning with everyone, we treat people as they come in. You have the problems and we are there to solve them," Champagne said.
"We chose this facility for the quietness of the environment. I have been coming here all my life. We needed a place where we could offer clientele a family environment. They need to be accepted where they are and they need to be quiet. People come from everywhere and they just want to be part of the community and that is what we will offer inside that facility. We know that AA meetings have been going on there and when I walked into that chapel, I knew that when those people are sitting down, these people are going to have a sense of the energy inside that building and for us that is very important," Champagne said.
"All the therapies inside that building will be written by a team of 20 psychologists. Everybody that is there is a professional and we have a very big team of counsellors, psychologists, doctors, and we have cut a deal with Vankleek Hill Pharmacy, which is willing to take all of our clients. We are working with crisis services, mental health and have good relations with the L"Orignal Court. We all know someone who drove their car when they have one drink too many. We have a team of workers that are specialized to help anyone in this area," Champagne explained.
"We want to make people understand that if we go through with having a rehab centre in this area, we are not going to be increasing the problems, but will be reducing it in our environment. The reason people steal . . . the young people in this area have no jobs and they steal and that is why they go through this, they try to become the biggest drug addict . . . we are going to deprogram these people," Champagne continued.
"We have specific rules. They get up very early, they get dressed, they have rules that they have to abide by. Any time they go out they are supervised. It is not a free community. They are going to be with us for six or seven months and they can go back to their regular life. We want to bring back a normal standard life for any human being for anyone who has a drug or alcohol problem and that is what we want to bring into Vankleek Hill," Champagne said.
Mercier referred to economic benefits from such a facility. "Here is some food for thought. People who are no longer dependent on substances are more functional. There are tons of studies showing that there are economic benefits. The ratio varies. . . every dollar spent on treatment, $4 back into economy. There is a study out this morning prepared on depression and addiction that confirms this. There will be impacts on the local economy, they require food, cleaning, landscaping, medication will be sourced locally. There will be a positive financial impact on the community," Mercier said.
Mercier also said that contrary to what people thing, property values tend to increase instead of decrease.
After meeting with the public, Mercier said that the developers will go back to look at their plans.
"The next step will be to come back to the municipality for the zoning amendment and get a site plan agreement," Mercier said.
Questions from councillors
Vankleek Hill councillor Paul Emile Duval asked if it would be possible to visit another addiction treatment centre.
Champagne said that yes, a visit could be arranged. La Fondation L'Ange Gardien is in the process of opening another such facility in Montebello, Quebec, right in the centre of town, he said.
"The difference between a rehab centre and a detox centre is that a detox centre has junkies and they bring them there for 28 days. But at this rehab centre, when they come in voluntarily . . . they are coming in sober. Mentally, they have decided not to go back to where they were. They don't come in drunk or anything," Champagne said.
L'Orignal councillor Jacques Lacelle asked if clients would be kept inside the facility 24 hours per day.
Champagne reiterated that whenever residents left the property, they would be supervised. "Someone is watching for that group wherever they go. It is one of the first rules they sign when they go in," Champagne said.
Vankleek Hill councillor Troy Carkner asked if visitors would be allowed to see residents.
Visiting hours are scheduled only on Sundays, Champagne replied.
In response to a question from Longueuil councillor Helen MacLeod, Champagne replied that there would be 70 residents at the facility.
"There will be 11 residents for one staff person, therapy-wise, not counting the night guards and group therapists, during the day and weekends. The only time residents don't do therapy is overnight," Champagne said, adding that there is always a therapist there, at every hour of the day.
MacLeod wanted to know if the developers realized the extent of the renovations required inside the convent building, to which Champagne replied that costs were expected to be between $300,000 and $500,000.
"Nothing is changing outside . . . the chapel . . . we are not touching it. Right now, we are inquiring about the pool," Champagne said, adding, "We will do whatever it takes."
"The exterior won't change?" asked MacLeod.
Mercier said there might be some minor changes.
Lacelle wanted to know where the money was coming from for the improvements.
"So far, we have donations from businessmen," Champagne replied.
"We have one person putting in money because he has no children. It is all donations," Champagne said.
In response to another question from MacLeod, Champagnes said that the facility would treat mainly Ontario residents.
MacLeod then asked if the centre would cater to people based on their religion. Champagne said that there would be no bias as to religion.
"We are keeping the chapel because for us, it is a special place for people to go in there and meditate."
"Can you give us a short introduction as to how it works for people to get introduced to your program?" Carkner asked.
"Some people will come personally, some come from an organization. We have the first hour when we sit them down with a therapist and we study their situation and we study the risk. It is very hard for us to keep a rolling energy (in the treatment centre). When we know there is going to be a rotten apple, we don't accept them. There is a centre we can refer people to. When they come in, they go into an evaluation process, then they are placed in the program wherever they need to be put," Champagne said.
"So it is a doctor who is evaluating them and is saying yes or no?" Carkner asked.
"If we go back 10 or 10 years ago anyone could open a centre, but it has changed.
Now . . . to sit down and speak with them in an office, you need a university degree," Champagne said.
A copy of the foundation's powerpoint presentation is available at Champlain Township offices at 48 Pleasant Corner Rd E, Vankleek Hill and at The Review offices at 76 Main Street East in Vankleek Hill.