Overtime and lawyers exact a price on city budget


city_scope_logo-cmykIn his six-month budget monitoring report to city council this past Monday (Sept. 18), the city’s director of financing, David Aristone, is projecting an operating deficit of $25,000 this year.
Aristone cautions, however, there are three areas in which “the city may have some exposure for over expenditures but the magnitude is not known.”
In other words, that operating deficit could balloon rather significantly.
The three areas of concern?
Let’s start with 2017 salary negotiations which would include bargaining with city firefighters. They are seeking a 24-hour shift structure and unless an amicable agreement can be reached, this one will end up in arbitration. Continue reading

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Only a matter of time now for Sutherland Press building


Will it be a case of third-time success for the City of St. Thomas? Monday evening (Sept. 18), city council accepted the $197,000 tender from Schouten Excavating of Watford to demolish the derelict Sutherland Press building that looms over the downtown core.
Schouten had been the successful bidder in 2016 when it was awarded the contract for $101,000.
It’s the third time in nearly a decade the city has attempted to level the building that dates back to 1913. Continue reading

Land-use planner warns St. Thomas is suffering from ‘sign disease’


city_scope_logo-cmykIt was a sign of what lies ahead for city staff in St. Thomas. An overview of the proposed 2017 advertising sign bylaw ran into stiff opposition at this week’s reference committee meeting.
Amendments to the existing bylaw to deal with portable signs in the downtown core faced vocal opposition from more than two dozen small businesses and area sign companies.
The bylaw would prohibit portable advertising signs in the downtown business area and limit them to one per commercial lot outside the core and three per industrial lot.
A-board signs would still be permitted but would have to come in off the sidewalk at the end of the day.
It’s a restriction similar to what’s in place in London and Sarnia.

Continue reading

Setting course for Sutherland Press building demolition


 

city_scope_logo-cmykWhile the owner and his lawyer remain ominously quiet, it is onward and upward – or maybe that should be downward in this case – as the city stays the course on a process that will ultimately result in demolition of the Sutherland Press building.
In a conversation Friday with city manager Wendell Graves, he advised a report should come to council for the Sept. 18th meeting dealing with demolition tenders.
“The tenders are due next week,” confirmed Graves. “There was a site meeting (this past week) with numerous contractors. It seems like there is a fair bit of interest from contractors who showed up for the site meeting.”
Should council approve the winning tender bid, would demolition begin shortly afterward?
Continue reading

Will Ontario’s new minimum wage result in maximum economic stress for school bus operators?


city_scope_logo-cmykAs debate swirls around the province’s decision to raise the minimum wage in stages, beginning Jan. 1 of next year, the Kathleen Wynne government has not taken into account the impact on school bus operators, most notably small, independent firms that have safely transported students back and forth to classes for decades.
The Ontario School Bus Association (OSBA) estimates nearly one million Ontario families rely on school buses to get their children to school. The Wynne government’s push to hike the minimum wage could threaten the availability of bus service in the coming year. Continue reading

“Difficult decision” made to cancel this year’s Fire Muster


The St. Thomas Professional Firefighters Association and the St. Thomas Fire Muster Days committee have made “the very difficult decision” to cancel this year’s Fire Muster which was to run Sept. 2 and 3.
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In a release issued Wednesday, the move to cancel was announced so that members of the association can pay their respects to Fire Chief Rob Broadbent, who died Monday of cancer.
In the release, Fire Muster chairman Daryl Smith noted, “We did not make this decision lightly as a lot of planning has been invested into this event. However we are confident our decision is appropriate in these circumstances.”
Smith added, “We appreciate the community’s understanding with regard to this difficult decision.
“I would also like to thank colleagues, friends and the entire community as we pay our respects to Chief Broadbent and support his family over the next few days.”

The muster, which has drawn close to 10,000 visitors in past years, is being cancelled for the first time in its 35-year history.

The service for Rob Broadbent will be held 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2 at Central United Church, 135 Wellington St., St. Thomas.

Visitation is Thursday from 7-9 p.m. and again Friday from 1-3 and 7-9 p.m. at Shawn Jackson Funeral Home, 31 Elgin Street.

St. Thomas fire chief succumbs to cancer


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St. Thomas Fire Chief, Rob Broadbent, died Monday (Aug. 28) after a brief battle with kidney cancer at age 56.

Broadbent had been on sick leave from the department for much of the summer.

He was born in St. Thomas and served with the fire department for 32 years, including fire chief since 2010.

St. Thomas Mayor Heather Jackson paid tribute to Broadbent, and his leadership role with the service.

“The entire City family is devastated by the loss of a tremendous leader and a strategic director of our Fire Service. We extend our deepest sympathies to the Chief’s wife Deb and his entire family.”

Broadbent will be remembered in this corner for his refreshing sense of humour, his love of running, his eagerness to work with the media, his invitations to join firefighters in training sessions and demonstrations and his overall concern for the safety and well-being of those who served – both past and present – in the city’s fire service.

Full obit and funeral arrangements can be found here

A clearer vision for Alma College property or another dashed dream?


city_scope_logo-cmykWhat lies ahead for the Alma College property might very well come into sharper focus this fall. London developer Gino Reale is optimistic such is the case.
Speaking to him from his home Friday, Reale was upbeat.
“There have been a lot of positive discussions. We’re getting close to some resolutions. But nothing has been inked.”
While he was unable to reveal details at this time, Reale said discussions are underway with a group on the possibility of constructing a small recreation centre on the Moore Street property geared to seniors. Part of the green space could be utilized for a community garden, suggested Reale. Continue reading

Third time lucky as city pursues demolition in Sutherland saga?


Round 3 of the Sutherland Press demolition derby is officially underway. At Monday’s council meeting, city manager Wendell Graves advised the paperwork is being drawn up this week seeking requests for proposal for demolition of the four-storey Sutherland Press building.
It’s the third time in nine years the city has undertaken this process, and the fact the building that dates back to 1913 is still standing is testament to the success of the previous two attempts.

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Sutherland Press building in 2008, prior to partial demolition of front face

In 2008, a determination from Justice David Little paved the way to for partial demolition of the top floor of the structure. A process halted almost immediately by Justice Peter Hockin. The same Justice Hockin who, in June of this year, upheld the validity of a pair of work orders issued by the city calling for remedial work to be performed on the structure.
In other words, Hockin concurred with engineering reports undertaken by the city and ruled the building is unsafe.
And that has prompted a third kick at the demolition can.
In between these two attempts, the city in February of 2016 awarded a demolition tender to Schouten Excavating of Watford in the amount of $101,135.
Earlier this month, Graves confirmed  “technically that tender was not active.”
And so, here we go again as the city takes a cautious approach to proceeding with demolition of the building owned by David McGee of Toronto.
Speaking with Graves in his office today (Aug. 22), he made it clear everything must be buttoned down when announcing the winning bid because McGee ultimately will be presented with the bill.

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A conceptual drawing of what the Sutherland Press building might possibly look like if successfully converted into a condominium development.

Will companies be reluctant to submit proposals because of past history?
Graves felt this would not be a problem as there was no shortage of interested parties in 2016.
He added a report should come to council in mid-September with the tender proposals.
Meantime,McGee’s lawyer Valerie M’Garry was unavailable today for comment.
Following Hockin’s ruling in June, she told City Scope “We’re optimistic of approaching the municipality and saying here’s a proposal for you, let’s move forward rather than spending time on appeals and things like that.”
She added at that time,  “I think there’s an onus on both parties. We have to pony up and they have to be willing to listen. Both parties have to be willing to come to the dance. And we can do some things that will assuage the city’s concerns and ultimately be to the advantage of the building.”
Graves confirmed again today, neither M’Garry nor McGee has engaged in any dialogue with the city on the next step following the ruling from Justice Hockin.

Related posts:

Charting the pathway to demolition and freedom for the hostages

No throwing caution to the wind in this chapter of the Sutherland Saga

After nine years, it’s time to pony up and listen

Thirty days and counting in the Sutherland Saga

Questions and comments may be emailed to: City Scope
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Answers needed on dealing with Ascent long-term debt


city_scope_logo-cmykWith a 322-page agenda plus several deputations and presentations to deal with, members of council won’t be putting the wraps on Monday’s council meeting in 45 minutes or less, as is often the case.
Especially if they do what they are paid to do and represent St. Thomas ratepayers. Forget lobbing softballs and ask the tough questions. Forget the platitudes to staff about a job well done on this report or that. Of course the report is exceptional, that’s the job of staff at city hall and they do it well.
Start probing.
For instance, how about the city’s consolidated financial report for 2016. We’ll point you in the right direction at Page 275. Continue reading

Charting the pathway to demolition and freedom for the hostages


city_scope_logo-cmykAfter nine years, the city finally benefits from a legal determination the Sutherland Press building is, indeed, unsafe but does the ruling from Justice Peter Hockin mean the hostage taking in St. Thomas is nearing a conclusion?
The city has chosen to take a cautious approach, something it can’t be faulted on after a 2008 ruling from Justice David Little triggered partial demolition of the top floor of the four-storey structure. A process halted almost immediately by the same Justice Hockin.
What is most frustrating is the continued lack of movement on the part of owner David McGee since the June 28 decision that upheld a pair of city work orders. Attempts by McGee and his lawyer, Valerie M’Garry, to convince both Hockin and city staff that the financial picture had somehow improved – to the tune of $50,000 – were laughable. 
Surely the unpaid bills would gobble that up in prompt fashion.
M’Garry had indicated to this corner the next step would be dialogue with the city on moving forward.
So, how is that working out?

Continue reading

Gone fishin’!


gone fishingjpgCity Scope is taking a short break over the civic holiday long weekend but we will be back on diligent duty Tuesday. After all, we need to know what lies ahead in the immediate future for the Sutherland Press building.

And, what is contained in a two-year-old Ontario Works proposed site location report the city will not make public? This corner has been denied access to the report through two separate freedom of information requests. It’s the same report Coun. Jeff Kohler sought to bring into open session at the June meeting of council in order to reveal the true cost of renovating the old police headquarters in the Colin McGregor Justice Building.

Remember Barbara Arbuckle? Whatever happened to the former director of Ontario Works? We’ll update a story from one year ago on why she is still on the staff directory at city hall but hasn’t been on the job for years.

If your busy summer has kept you from visiting this corner of late, below are links to the three most recent posts.

Enjoy the long weekend!

No throwing caution to the wind in this chapter of the Sutherland Saga

Silently pointing the way atop St. Thomas Elevated Park

What was once forgotten, is now lost

 

 

No throwing caution to the wind in this chapter of the Sutherland Saga


city_scope_logo-cmykThe Sutherland Saga forecast for next week?
Cautious for the next few days.
With the 30-day appeal period having expired this past week and no indication Sutherland Press building owner David McGee intends to challenge the June 28 decision handed down by Justice Peter Hockin that, in essence, the four-storey downtown edifice is in fact unsafe, is that the wrecker’s ball we hear approaching?
Not so fast, advises city manager Wendell Graves who indicated Friday the city is taking a cautious approach at this time.
He advised while no word has been received from McGee or his lawyer Valerie M’Garry an appeal is in the works, it is better to err on the side of caution while seeking advice from legal counsel. Continue reading

Silently pointing the way atop St. Thomas Elevated Park


city_scope_logo-cmykIf you think all is quiet on the St. Thomas Elevated Park front, all you have to do is look up to see nothing could be further from the truth.
The first of two large sculptures crafted by area artist and blacksmith Scott McKay was positioned in place this week, high above Sunset Drive in readiness for this year’s picnic on Aug. 27.
Entitled Fear Not The Wind, the artwork is an over-size, functional weathervane.
“Because it’s a windy environment up there, the artist came up with the idea of using that wind to make the sculpture move,” explained Serge Lavoie, president of On Track St. Thomas. “So, a big, overgrown weather vane was the answer. You go to old-fashioned gardens and they put in weather vanes or sun dials and he came up with a weather vane for this garden and I think it’s a cool idea.” Continue reading

What was once forgotten, is now lost


city_scope_logo-cmykIn January of last year we first wrote about the forgotten Talbot Street apartments, clearly visible from the mayor’s office across the street at city hall.
Even more shocking than the decrepit state of these hovels was the fact owner Trad Antoine had been approved by St.Thomas-Elgin Ontario Works for funding to add 10 one-bedroom units next door at 560 Talbot St., above the former Capitol Theatre.
Two of the apartments were to be reserved for clients supported by the YWCA of St. Thomas-Elgin and the remainder for Canadian Mental Health Association clients.
He was in line to receive $731,925 of Investment in Affordable Housing (IAH) funding.
Just before Christmas, 2016, we checked in with acting director of St. Thomas-Elgin Ontario Works Elizabeth Sebestyen on the status of those new units given the fact Trad had packed up shop at his furniture business housed in the old theatre. Continue reading

Veterans Memorial Garden another St. Thomas success story


city_scope_logo-cmykThe ceremonial ground-breaking was held last month and now it is down to serious business at Veterans Memorial Garden, to be located on Moore Street, across from BX Tower.
The garden will incorporate the city’s war memorials in one downtown location. This would include the First World War soldier in front of St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital and the Second World War and Korean War memorial at Princess Avenue.
Standing on the site of the garden recently, Tony Bendel, representing Lord Elgin Branch 41, Royal Canadian Legion, described the layout.
The soldier will be moved to the north end of the garden while the Second World War and Korean War memorial will be in the centre and become “the focal point. And currently right now in Toronto there is a bronze statue being cast of an Afghan soldier and that will be at the far end (south end of the garden near Centre Street). They will be building a rock wall and that soldier will be sitting on that.” Continue reading

After nine years, it’s time to pony up and listen


After nine years of legal wrangling, a bevy of engineering reports, much dizzying debate over semantics and hair-splitting, we finally have a definitive answer from on high.
The Sutherland Press building is unsafe. That’s the determination of Justice Peter Hockin handed down this week along with confirmation building orders issued in 2015 and 2016 have been confirmed as valid.
All right, but now what?
City manager Wendell Graves advised the next step for the city is consultation with legal counsel John Sanders, but “In the absence of any action by the owner, the city will want to make the area safe again as soon as possible.” Continue reading

Thirty days and counting in the Sutherland Saga


“It ain’t over till it’s over,” cautioned baseball legend Yogi Berra.
And truer words were never spoken in reference to the protracted Sutherland Saga. 
A ruling released this week by Justice Peter Hockin confirmed two work orders issued by the city in 2015 and 2016 are valid – a decision based on evidence presented by the city’s legal counsel John Sanders and Valerie M’Garry, representing building owner David McGee, at a June 2nd hearing at the Elgin County courthouse. Continue reading

In-camera report might reveal true cost of renovating Colin McGregor Justice Building


city_scope_logo-cmykA confusing few moments at Monday’s council meeting so this corner thought it wise to confer with Ald. Jeff Kohler on what he is attempting to uncover.
To briefly summarize, Kohler was seeking to have a report brought out into open session, but the majority of council had difficulty establishing just what document he was referring to and the matter was deferred to the August meeting.
By way of explanation, Kohler noted the report – dealt with during a 2015 in-camera meeting of council – presented different location options for Elgin-St. Thomas Ontario Works, whose lease in the Mickleborough Building on Talbot Street expires this year.
Several sites for a new home for Ontario Works were catalogued, including the Colin McGregor Justice Building, vacated this month by the St. Thomas Police Service.

Nine years after the fire, a brick from Alma College initiates healing for Ivan Zinn


Vilified for his role in the blaze that hastened the demise of iconic Alma College in St. Thomas, nine years later a shadow has been lifted from Ivan Zinn’s past.
On May 28, 2008, Zinn and a fellow Arthur Voaden Secondary School student scrambled through a back window into Alma College where they set fire to a mattress found under a stairwell, little expecting “all hell to break loose” as described by a member of the St. Thomas Police Service during a taped interview.
Just 15 at the time he and the co-accused were charged with arson and on Sept. 24, 2009, Justice Donald Ebbs sentenced them to two years probation, the maximum allowed under the Youth Criminal Justice Act. In addition, they were to undertake 240 hours of community work.

Continue reading

A hot housing market? Look no further than council’s agenda.


city_scope_logo-cmykIn a compelling presentation last month to Thames Valley District School Board trustees, St. Thomas developer Doug Tarry stressed “it would be really dumb to close New Sarum (public school) because you are going to wipe out empty seats at Mitchell Hepburn.”
With the number of new homes coming online, Tarry insisted both schools will be needed. He noted 92 lots in his newest St. Thomas subdivision sold out within four days of release.
Well you have to look no further than Monday’s council agenda to ascertain Tarry was not stretching the truth.
The St. Thomas housing market is on fire and school board trustees should have paid heed to his warning.
Here’s a rundown on applications before council June 19.
Springwater Developments is proposing five buildings, each containing four townhouse units and two lots for semi-detached dwellings to be located on Arbor Trail in the Orchard Park South Development Area.
Shawside Development Ltd., is proposing to develop 59 lots for single detached dwellings and 39 multiple-attached or detached dwelling units with part of another block of land set aside for future development. This is to be located on Old Course Road.
Owner Russell Higgins plans to develop 55 lots for single-detached dwellings on the former Gloin Farm property adjacent to the Shawside Development Area.
And Tarry is seeking permission to proceed with Phase 1 of his Millers Pond Subdivision on the former Parish Farm, west of Fairview Road. This would entail 52 lots for single-detached dwellings. This is in addition to a total of 255 dwelling units proposed for the Harvest Run Block Plan on the former Axford Farm, east of Centennial Road.
Of course the London-based school board dismissed all presentations from a bevy of concerned parents, students, municipal and business leaders and will march ahead with its plan to close schools in Sparta, New Sarum, South Dorchester and Springfield. Sparta would be the first to close and then be re-purposed as a second French Immersion school in Elgin.
Again we refer to the presentation that evening from John Hueston, president of the Aylmer Express newspaper, who opened with the Mark Twain quote, “In the first place, God made idiots. This was just for practice. Then he made school boards.” Continue reading

Lots of red ink, but rest assured nothing will be written off


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With municipal councils in St. Thomas and Chatham-Kent having approved the merger of St. Thomas Energy and Entegrus, all that is required is the go-ahead from the Ontario Energy Board (OEB), likely to happen late this year with a target merger date of Jan. 1, 2018.
Oh, and there is that prickly matter of a not insignificant amount of long-term debt run up by Ascent Group, St. Thomas Energy’s parent – city treasurer David Aristone refers to it as bank debt – and in excess of $5 million owed the municipality for the collection of water bills dating back to at least 2014.
It’s not a subject open to much in the way of discussion by either Aristone or St. Thomas Energy acting CEO Rob Kent. 

Continue reading

City council gives green light to St. Thomas Energy merger; we remain in the dark on status of debt


Municipal councils in St. Thomas and Chatham-Kent this week gave their blessing to the merger of St. Thomas Energy and Entegrus. The utility marriage now needs approval from the Ontario Energy Board (OEB), likely to happen late this year with a target merger date of Jan. 1, 2018.
However, neither the city treasurer nor the acting CEO at St. Thomas Energy are forthcoming with details on how the long-term debt – reported to be greater than $20 million – and the more than $5 million owing the city on the collection of water bills will be accounted for in the merger.
St. Thomas Energy will become a 20 per cent stakeholder in the new entity, which will service close to 60,000 customers in southwestern Ontario,  making it the 11th largest utility in the province. 

Continue reading

‘It just sits there.’ Is the Sutherland Press building a monument to something or an over-sized bird house?


city_scope_logo-cmykWhen we last looked in on the Sutherland Saga, one question remained unanswered. Is the four-storey structure looming over the downtown core unsafe?
After a day-long hearing Friday at the Elgin County Courthouse – in which lawyer Valerie M’Garry, representing owner David McGee, and John Sanders, representing the city’s chief building official Chris Peck, parried over the definition of unsafe and is there a definition of a safe structure – little headway was made in what has become a dizzying debate over semantics.
And, as was the case on the opening day of the hearing a week ago, it was Justice Peter Hockin who dominated proceedings. Pondering aloud at one point, “What if this place is not insurable from a liability point of view?”
To backtrack for a moment, the purpose of the two-day hearing is to get down to business and deal with the decision of a three-member court of appeal panel handed down last month in which it ruled in the city’s favour, advising a lower court erred in its determination last September that a notice issued in March of 2016 warning of demolition of the four-storey structure for failure to comply with a previous work order was null and void.

Continue reading

Wind turbine noise complaints proof province is ‘kowtowing to their corporate buddies’ – Dutton Dunwich Opponents of Wind Turbines


A coalition of groups and individuals concerned about the proliferation of industrial wind turbines is calling on the province to halt the approval process for new projects and develop and enforce new, tougher noise standards.
In a media release issued today (May 31) Wind Concerns Ontario (WCO) claimed the Kathleen Wynne government has failed to respond to thousands of wind turbine noise complaints.
And locally, a spokesperson for ratepayers opposed to proceeding with a wind turbine project in Dutton/Dunwich said it’s further proof the province is “kowtowing to . . . their corporate buddies.”

Continue reading

Sutherland Saga: ‘The court costs may have exceeded the costs of repair’


city_scope_logo-cmykNeither of the combatants in the City of St. Thomas vs. Sutherland Lofts hearing was the star of the show Wednesday at the Elgin County Courthouse.
That honour went to his honour, Justice Peter Hockin , who had no qualms about speaking his mind, sharing his thoughts and guiding lawyers Valerie M’Garry and John Sanders down the path of least resistance.
Or as he stressed, “I don’t want to spin our wheels on collateral issues.”
Now remember, this is the same Justice Hockin who, in 2008, overturned a ruling from Justice David Little that gave the city the go-ahead to demolish the four-storey structure.
In reference to the boxes of evidence accumulated since then, Hockin cut to the chase. “Is it unsafe right now . . . there were recommendations of what could have been done but never was done.”

Continue reading

It all comes down to this: Is the Sutherland Press building unsafe?


After a protracted legal battle that has spanned nearly a decade – and characterized as a “battle royale” at a hearing Wednesday at the Elgin County Courthouse – the Sutherland Saga comes down to a single question.
Is the Sutherland Press building unsafe?
Justice Peter Hockin set an aggressive tone early as both sides sat across from each other for the first time since a three-member court of appeal panel in Toronto earlier this month ruled in the city’s favour, advising a lower court erred in its determination last September that a notice issued in March of 2016 warning of demolition of the four-storey structure for failure to comply with a previous work order was null and void.

Continue reading

St. Thomas developer states the obvious: ‘You’ve got to have people downtown’


city_scope_logo-cmykIt will be a game-changer for the revitalization of the downtown core. An apartment complex proposed for the three-acre parcel of land at the southeast corner of Ross and Talbot streets that one of the partners in the deal calls “a nice lot that would make for good housing.”
In May of 2015, Bob and Don McCaig purchased the vacant parcel of land at 672 Talbot Street from Infrastructure Ontario for $750,000, well below the asking price of $1.1 million. 
Previously the site of a car dealership and the YMCA prior to that, the land had been purchased by the province as a possible location for the consolidated Elgin County Courthouse.
Speaking with Bob McCaig on Friday, he is proposing to erect a pair of apartment buildings in two phases.

Continue reading

West end of Talbot Street to be site of ‘social services and housing campus’


The city shone some light this week on its proposal to develop “a social services and housing campus” on a large tract of land recently purchased from London developer Shmuel Farhi.
City manager Wendell Graves updated council at Monday’s reference committee meeting on the development process at 230 Talbot Street which will be undertaken in three stages, anchored by a new home for Ontario Works which is currently leasing space in the Mickleborough building at 423 Talbot Street, the second property purchased by the city from Farhi in the same transaction.

Continue reading

Council approves tender for construction of St. Thomas Outdoor Recreation Complex


Orin Contractors Corp. of Concord, Ontario was the winning bidder at $9.1 million for construction of the St. Thomas Outdoor Recreation Complex to be located on Burwell Road in the city’s north end.
Monday night, city council unanimously approved accepting the base tender of $9,098,178.97, excluding HST. An amount of $11,440,000 had been approved in the 2017 capital budget.
ST. THOMAS OUTDOOR RECREATION COMPLEXLess than $200,000 separated the top two bids, with the third tender from Aldershot Landscape Contractors coming in at $13.6 million. 
The 65-acre complex will include soccer pitches, a full-size lighted artificial turf football field, a community park with play zone and splash pad, basketball courts, multi-use trail, washrooms, concession stand and change rooms.
City manager Wendell Graves told council opportunities exist to include the soccer and football clubs in fundraising opportunities. This would help pay for items not included in the base tender price, including a shade shelter, a score clock for the artificial surface field, optional bleachers and an equipment storage building.
The St. Thomas Soccer Club has already committed to a donation of nets with an estimated value of $140,000.
A fundraising report will be presented to council at a later date. 
Council last year approved a sum of $450,000 to complete the design and tender specifications for the project.
In March of this year Dave Aristone, director of finance, advised a 20-year loan in the amount of $11 million from Infrastructure Ontario would be the preferred financing option.
Graves had previously advised work on the complex could begin next month.
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Of Mark Twain and the London-centred school board


 city_scope_logo-cmyk“You close down a school in a small town and kids suddenly spend hours on the bus going to other communities.” That’s an observation from David Thompson, chairman of the Near North District School Board in Ontario, gleaned from a St. Thomas & District Chamber of Commerce news release calling for a moratorium on school closures.
At the May 6 Ontario Chamber of Commerce convention in Sarnia, member chambers adopted a resolution “supporting a moratorium on closures and for organizations including the Chamber to be engaged by the school boards to consult economic impact.”
In St. Thomas and Elgin, the Thames Valley District School board will decided later this month on a proposal to close schools in Sparta, New Sarum, South Dorchester and Springfield. Sparta would be the first to close and then be re-purposed as a second French Immersion school in Elgin.

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Sutherland hostages handed a small legal triumph


There haven’t been many in the past decade, however on Monday the city received word of a small victory in the Sutherland saga.
City manager Wendell Graves informed council a panel of three appeal court justices ruled in the city’s favour, advising a lower court erred in its determination last September that a notice issued in March of 2016 warning of demolition of the four-storey structure for failure to comply with a previous work order was null and void.

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Neighbourhood blight to be demolished in favour of seniors’ residence


city_scope_logo-cmykFor several years it was a pot-mark on the Wellington Street landscape. The burned-out hulk of the former Ramada Inn proved such an eyesore, Craig Geerlinks and Adam MacLeod across the street at Geerlinks Home Hardware wrote a letter to council in December 2015 pointing out “The building has been abandoned for more than a few years. We are concerned this blight on the neighbourhood, and the city in general, will continue with no end in sight.”
They concluded their missive with the fact many customers leave the store “having purchased home improvement materials, those customers look across the street and cannot help but be disheartened that their efforts at improving their properties are offset by derelict and abandoned buildings such as this one . . . Out-of-town visitors attending activities at the Timken Arena and railway museum drive past the remnants of this now abandoned building and must wonder about our community spirit.”

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Seven-year sentence in violent St. Thomas jewelry store heist


Having fled the bombs and bullets of war-torn Vietnam, Le Tran Ho could hardly have imagined, decades later, she would feel so threatened in what she assumed was her safe, permanent home.
Ho, the owner of B&L Jewellers, was assaulted in a violent robbery February 1 of last year when Wallace Piercey entered the First Avenue shop in St. Thomas and asked her to show him engagement rings. Ho remembered Piercey, who had visited the shop a week previous.

Continue reading

New life for an old St. Thomas foot path


The city’s newest trail project may very well involve one of the older, well-established foot paths in St. Thomas.

At Monday’s reference committee meeting, city council was apprised of the Owaissa Trail project connecting Hiawatha Street to Athletic Park and then continuing on to St. George Street.
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Existing path looking eastward from Athletic Park clubhouse

The short-cut to Athletic Park has been in use for decades, most notably by Arthur Voaden Secondary School teams to quickly get from the school to games at the sports fields.
“It’s a very, very well used trail,” advised Ross Tucker, director of parks, recreation and property management.
The move to formally create a trail was prompted by queries about ownership of land in the area and liability issues.
The plan is to create a three-metre wide asphalt path down from Hiawatha Street to the clubhouse area at Athletic Park and then through the parking area up to St. George Street. The cost is estimated at $180,000, which does not include any possible land purchases.
The route includes a storm sewer easement which the city does not own.
When asked about steepness of the trail and ease of use for those with accessibility issues, director of environmental services Justin Lawrence indicated the grade would be in the six to eight per cent range.
Coun. Steve Wookey questioned whether the trail would be lighted, to which Tucker responded, “We’re not entertaining any lighting, at least yet.”
A staff report will be presented to council later this fall, with cost of the trail to be included in the 2018 capital budget.
Questions and comments may be emailed to: City Scope

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Retirement payouts to firefighters enough to make you sick


city_scope_logo-cmykYou have to look very, very carefully to find this gem in last Monday’s council agenda.
We’ll help you out. It’s on Page 65. A warning from the city’s director of finance, David Aristone.
“The various reserve balance are adequate in the short term,” advised Aristone in his 2016 year-end update to council. “However, for the longer term, the city is financially exposed in the following areas.
Aristone lists four areas with the final being “future retirement payouts for the fire department.”
No amount is listed, but we confirmed with human resources director Graham Dart the amount at the end of 2016 was approximately $1.3 million.
A tidy sum, that. And what is the $1.3 million earmarked for?

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City to assume ownership of Lake Margaret . . . and those grass-gobbling geese


The process and implications of transferring ownership of Lake Margaret and associated lands to the city were outlined to residents of the lakeside subdivision in attendance Monday at city council’s reference committee meeting.
The update of the Lake Margaret Management Plan by city staff was deemed “a phenomenal presentation,” by one shoreline resident who added the process “restores a lot of our faith.”

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Market study recommends more retail in downtown core; revitalization of Elgin Mall


city_scope_logo-cmykIn the period 2000 to 2015, St. Thomas experienced an almost three-fold increase in vacant commercial retail space. That’s one of the key findings in a 2015 retail market study to be presented to council Monday.
The study, undertaken by Dillon Consulting and W. Scott Morgan & Associates, sought to “analyse the ability of the city’s commercial policy framework to support the health of its retail market, while identifying the evolving retail market trends that may affect St. Thomas.”
The city has 2.46 million square feet of retail commercial space – an increase of 15 per cent since 2007 – but in that total, 313,000 square feet is vacant, up from 114,000 in the year 2000.

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Talbot Street redevelopment moves east in 2018


Pending council approval, the city will proceed with design work for Phase 2 of Talbot Street redevelopment.
With successful completion of the initial phase last summer – at a cost of $3.2 million – the plan is to move east and begin work on that stretch of the roadway between Pearl and Mary streets.
talbot-street-redevelopmentjpgSurvey work will begin in the near future and include locates of existing utilities, a process that should entail little in the way of disruption to pedestrian or vehicular traffic.
This second phase will continue the success of the streetscape theme undertaken last year, advised David Jackson, the city’s manager of public works.
“The aesthetics of the street will be enhanced, a pedestrian friendly zone will be prioritized, and the majority of existing parking spaces will be maintained,” wrote Jackson in a release.
The project will include replacement of the sanitary sewer, watermain, utilities, road, sidewalk,  and streetlights.
As was the case last spring and summer, Talbot Street will be closed to vehicular traffic in a phased fashion.
Talbot Street plantersjpgThe construction will “include tight schedule deadlines and  financial penalties to ensure it is completed as quickly as possible,” stressed Jackson.
Pedestrian access will  more or less be maintained, with minor disruptions.
While no date has yet been established, Jackson advised a public meeting will be held in late 2017 where residents and business owners will have an opportunity to review the plans  and learn more about construction timing and impacts. 
Questions and comments may be emailed to: City Scope

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Can a building simply crumble under the weight of engineering reports?


city_scope_logo-cmykIt was a question posed by one of three appeal court justices that cut to the chase in the latest snafu associated with the Sutherland Saga.
Wednesday morning at Osgoode Hall in Toronto, she queried why “a defect in service would make an order null and void.”
Specifically, why would an alleged deficiency in the manner in which Chris Peck, the city’s chief building inspector, delivered a notice to building owner David McGee, warning of demolition of the structure for failure to comply with a previous work order, render it null and void?
Well, that was the determination of Justice Kelly Gorman on Sept. 27 of last year at the Elgin County Courthouse, which let to the city’s appeal of that decision heard last week.

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