Construction work on the $312 million Legion Veterans Village in Surrey’s city centre is well underway, with the first of two phases expected to be completed by late next year.
The project, initiated by the Royal Canadian Legion BC/Yukon Command, Whalley Legion Branch 229 and the Lark Group, will house Canada’s first “centre of excellence,” treating veterans and first responders with a focus on post-traumatic stress disorder and mental health, as well as the Whalley Legion, which has been operating since 1947 and has until recently been at this particular location, at 13525 106th Ave., since 1960.
The village is being built in two phases, featuring a mix of 495 market housing condominiums, 91 affordable housing units, the centre for clinical excellence and a new home for the Whalley Legion Branch 229, which will hold its Remembrance Day ceremony this coming Thursday at 10:30 a.m. at its temporary location at 10767 King George Blvd.
“We are getting closer every day to being able to serve our veteran community in our brand new facility,” said Tony Moore, president of the branch. “Hopefully by next November 2022, we’ll be able to hold our first Remembrance Day ceremony at the new Legion Veterans Village. In the meantime, we continue to operate out of our temporary location down the street where our veterans and local community can come enjoy great conversations over a pint of beer.”
Rowena Rizzotti is project lead for the Legion Veterans Village and vice-president of health care and innovations for the Lark Group, the developer of the project.
“It’s quite remarkable, I think, given COVID,” she said of progress thus far. “It’s been unwavering.”
The market housing part of the development, with 171 one and two-bedroom units marketed under Parc Centrale, has sold out. The 91 affordable housing units part of the project, managed by Vancouver Resource Society, is being built now.
“That will all officially be commissioned at the end of 2022.”
The second phase of the development, including a second tower of market housing, has not yet begun. The “rapid selling out” of phase one, Rizzotti figures, will allow phase two to start moving ahead sooner rather than later.
“It’s really going to be dependent on phase one, and the success of phase one, and now that’s had more success than anticipated I think the timeline on phase two is currently under review to see if that can be moved forward.”
Meantime, the leadership team for the centre of excellence – which will focus on mental health and rehabilitation as well as oversee clinical research and innovation – has just been revealed. This team consists of world-renowned neuroscientist Dr. Ryan D’Arcy as chief scientist, Dr. Venu Karapareddy, board director Rowena Rizzotti, operational director Debbie Greene, and Dr. Ashok Krishnamoorthy as its clinical research lead. Currently Krishnamoorthy is the medical director and head of Richmond Hospital’s psychiatry department.
Karapareddy is a psychiatrist and founding director of Actum Health in Surrey and Vancouver, specializes in treating PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), mental health and addiction. He is leading the psychiatric component of the centre of excellence and is also a clinical assistant professor at UBC.
He said it’s “inspiring” to see the “incredible progress” on construction. “We are already making inroads in bringing the latest innovative technologies and clinical research studies to the centre that will benefit first responders, veterans and their families.”
Karapareddy told the Now-Leader that veterans and first-responders often experience PTSD, depression, anxiety and other chronic mental health issues. “It’s not only the veterans and first responders, their family members as well struggle with a lot of these mental health issues.”
He said what they are trying to achieve is to provide a continuum of integrated services from primary care to specialist care. “We’re trying to create a very unique model of care to support mental health as well as brain health and rehab services.”
“The models could be replicated elsewhere in the country so that we are as a whole looking for better care for this population.”
Rizzotti said she’s “very excited” about this team. “It’s actually starting now,” she said. “Everybody’s working remotely, virtually, right now. We’re working out of some of the innovation hub space that Lark has currently down in the health and technology district, and we’ve started a lot of our work in the background.”
The intent, she said, is to set up all the infrastructure. “We want to be up, opening and already underway in our research project and we’ve started this process already, well in advance of opening the doors.”
Rizzoti said the clinicians are operating in their own clinics right now, with physiotherapy taking place out of the health and technology district.
She said the aim is to be “completely ready” to take on all clients to be served at the Legion Veterans Village “immediately on opening day.
“We want it to be up and going long before the day the doors open.”