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Neighbourhoods that housed COVID test sites deserve upgrades: Politicians

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City councillors representing wards home to London’s two COVID-19 assessment centres want a little compensation for constituents after all the fuss and bother they’ve endured over the last 16 months.

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Ward 8 Coun. Steve Lehman, Ward 4’s Jesse Helmer and Mayor Ed Holder are asking city hall for park and recreation centre improvements in neighbourhoods around Oakridge arena and Carling Heights Optimist Community Centre.

Their motion will be presented at Tuesday’s meeting of council’s community and protective service committee.

“The folks who live in these areas really sacrificed a lot on behalf of the rest of us,” Lehman said. “These folks deserve a lot of credit.”

The local politicians want city staff to consult with assessment centre neighbours to see what indoor or outdoor improvements they want to see in their local park or recreation centre. The proposal also asks city staff to look into federal or provincial funding for the infrastructure improvements.

As an example of the scale of the upgrades the councillors have in mind, the letter said the wading pool in McMahen Park, next to the Carling Heights centre, could be turned into a splash pad – but the exact improvements will be driven by community feedback, Lehman said.

The assessment centres opened days apart in March 2020 with almost no notice to area residents, Lehman said. Though he received some calls from concerned constituents when the Oakridge site opened, Lehman said everyone understood it was important.

“The Oakridge neighbourhood was willing to do their part,” he said.

Neighbourhoods around the two sites have faced extra traffic over the last 16 months, especially last September before sites moved to advance booking. Back-to-school and rising case counts last fall drove tens of thousands to seek tests, sparking blocks-long lineups of idling vehicles at both sites.

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Having thousands of often symptomatic people flocking to the quiet residential streets throughout the pandemic also kept COVID-19 top-of-mind for neighbours, Lehman said. “It was in their face every single day.”

Oakridge and Carling neighbourhoods also have gone without access to their local community centres since March 2020, Lehman said.

The Oakridge assessment centre closed last Friday, 16 months to the day after it opened. The site saw about 85,000 people in 348 days and administered about 81,400 COVID-19 tests.

The larger Carling Heights centre remains open. It has seen more than 144,250 people in 489 days in operation.

The sites are run by the Thames Valley Family Health Team and London Health Sciences Centre in partnership with the Middlesex-London Health Unit, Middlesex-London Paramedic Services and the city.

jbieman@postmedia.com

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