Nearly seven months after it succumbed to fire, Alma College is still in the headlines for the negligent fashion in which the owners, city and province deal with this heritage property.
In a presentation to council Monday, Suzanne van Bommel, president of the Alma Advocacy Association, called on the city to enforce minimum property standards, an action it could have pursued several years ago, but instead the municipality chose to abdicate on its heritage responsibilities.
“Nothing has changed at the site since the day of the fire,” advised van Bommel.
“It is imperative that what remains of the property, the site, the buildings and geographical structures be protected immediately.”
Not one to sidestep the obvious comparison, van Bommel suggested, “Surely if the city were to put a fraction of effort into the preservation and protection of 96 Moore St., than they have put into the destruction of the Sutherland Press building, we would not be where we are today.”
The fate/neglect of Alma has been the hottest topic at the City Scope blog site and we present a sample of comments from the past week.
“I hope the residents will rally once more, because we need to draw on our strengths here in St. Thomas and there are10 acres just sitting and waiting to be re-discovered,” writes St. Thomas resident William T. Snow.
“St.Thomas city council needs the financial assistance of both levels of government if they are expected to protect historic buildings,” adds David Belkin of London, Ont.
“However we can’t give the mayor and city council a pass for not enforcing the existing laws, which ensure basic maintenance, and from all accounts, this did not occur at Alma College for many years.”
“ We are losing historical buildings at an alarming rate,” warns Michael Quartz of Toronto. “And our minister of culture, just signs on the dotted line, allowing our heritage to disappear. I would hope that at some point in time, Premier McGuinty will realize (culture minister) Aileen Carroll has been badly neglecting her duties, and replace her.”
And finally, Lloyd Beeston, who splits his time between St. Thomas and Miami, observes, “It’s amazing that 130 years later, Alma is still in the headlines, just a sign of how very special the college was.”
A TAXING TIME
The financial health of St. Thomas is significantly poorer than the majority of communities in Ontario according to the results of a study conducted by the province and the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO).
The overall composite indicator of municipal fiscal health is rated at 7, with 1 indicating a healthy picture and 10 a warning of pool fiscal health.
This is not the news members of council and city staff need to hear as they tackle a difficult budget process for 2009 and some nightmarish decisions needed in 2010 – a municipal election year.
If it is any consolation, St. Thomas ranks ahead of London which comes in with an ailing score of 8.
With a composite financial health indicator of 9, Aylmer is on the critical list in Elgin county. Elsewhere around the county, Southwold leads the health parade with a score of 4 while Bayham and West Elgin check in at 5 and Central Elgin, Dutton/Dunwich and Malahide merit scores of 6.
The full report is available on the AMO website at AMO
ONE MAN’S LEGACY
Reader Bill Sandison submits the following observation for us to ponder.
“Prior to the (Alma) fire, council voted to demolish Alma College. Who would have arranged for that clean-up?
“Mayor Barwick’s legacy and leadership can be drawn from Moore Street, where we have scorched earth at one end (the remains of Alma) and a caved-in parking lot (the Sutherland Press building) at the other.
“If there is one thing that Mayor Barwick never runs out of, it is excuses for why things don’t get done in our city.”
A CHRISTMAS WISH TO YOU
As has been the custom over the past three holiday seasons, this corner would love to pass along appropriate gifts to loyal readers.
Material goods are so quickly taken for granted or fall out of favour, so we put together this gift list as our wish to you for a very Merry Christmas.
To your enemy, forgiveness. To an opponent, tolerance. To a friend, your heart. To a customer, service. To all, charity. To every child, a good example. To yourself, respect.
And to all faithful City Scope readers and visitors to the blog site, especially those with birthdays at this hectic time of year when their special day too often is lost in the hustle and bustle of the season – may this Christmas bring you peace, health and happiness.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“Heritage is a provincial responsibility and it’s about time the provincial government, after the episode of Alma College, threw the switch to the ‘On’ position with regard to heritage and step to the plate. The city does not have any money to protect buildings, we don’t have the funds.”
In a recent television interview, Mayor Cliff Barwick stressed it is up to the province to protect heritage buildings like Alma College, This in spite of the fact the city designated Alma as a heritage property and continues to afford this status with sites like Pinafore and Waterworks parks.
City Scope appears every Saturday in the Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be e-mailed to: firstname.lastname@example.org.