Deputation to St. Thomas council by Alma Advocacy Association

Suzanne van Bommel

Suzanne van Bommel

The full transcript of an address to St. Thomas council on Dec. 15, 2008 by Suzanne Van Bommel of the Alma Advocacy Association.

On behalf of the Alma Advocacy Association I would like to thank your Worship and members of Council for the opportunity to speak this evening.

My name is Suzanne van Bommel, President of the Alma Advocacy Association.

The goal of our group is to preserve and maintain what is left of the Alma College campus, obtain Provincial Heritage designation and maintain the municipal designation at 96 Moore Street.

Nothing has changed at the site since the date of the fire which is now more than 6 months ago.

The property at 96 Moore Street remains, as of today, municipally designated under By-law no. 167-94. The footprint of the main building, the chapel, the amphitheatre, the music building as well as the fence and the gates all have supposed protection under this designation.

The Ontario Heritage Trust, in its confidential report to the Minister of Culture, which we have obtained under Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Legislation also emphasizes the significance of the property and its features.

The Trust report reads:

The College is a provincial landmark, both physically and socially. Alma is one of the few remaining historic ladies colleges in Ontario. It dominates its immediate surroundings and occupies a position of urban prominence at the end of Moore Street. The building is surrounded by a residential neighborhood that possesses heritage value in its own right. The landscape of the property, though greatly altered, still possesses much of the original topography as well as the three other heritage features: the Music Building, the Chapel and the outdoor amphitheatre.

The City of St. Thomas is well aware that they could have enforced property standards under section 35.3 (1) of the Ontario Heritage Act as amended in 2005. Indeed the city attempted to enact and enforce property standards for heritage properties and this matter was struck down before the courts as too property specific.

We would submit, however, that taking all heritage aspects of this property and it’s remaining structures, out of the discussion; serious action on behalf of the City is required to enforce basic minimum property standards with an eye towards the safety of the public.

The Chapel’s roof is full of holes and bricks are being chipped away at the back of the building. The mucic building is leaking through the roof and bricks have also been chipped away at the entrance. A beautiful gate is lying in the grass, barely detectable by overgrowth. The amphitheatre is being chipped away at and destroyed by trespassers and vandals. The former Barbara Heck dining Hall has been three quarters demolished for more than three years with one remaining wall standing to hide the disgusting pile of rubbish. Their was no demolition permit issued for the dining hall. The former walk in freezer to the dining hall is a frequent hang out for trespassers.

The remains from the demolition, as we all know, sit in the middle of the property with a fallen down orange plastic snow fence surrounding the pile. Bricks disappear daily as tourists show up with regularity to gather their souvenirs of the glory that once was.

The state of the property is bluntly put; shameful. It is shameful to those who once lived in those beautiful quarters, those who admired it from afar and those who once felt an enormous sense of pride in the unique history of this City. I can’t even imagine being a property owner in what the Ontario Heritage Trust has described as a heritage district in its own right and having to look at the rubble and ruin ad nauseum with no foreseeable plan to clean it up in sight.

This property is far more dangerous than others in the City that have received the attention of the City when it comes to public safety and the enforcement of property standards. Surely, if the City were to put a fraction of effort into the preservation and protection of 96 Moore than they have put into the destruction of the Sutherland Press Building, we would not be where we are today.

One of the most interesting documents that we obtained in our request for Information under the Freedom of Information and protection of privacy Act was a briefing note to the Minister of Culture. We received hundreds and hundreds of notes, many of which had sections deleted under section 13 of the legislation. Fortunately in one of the versions of repetitive and updated briefing notes the Ministry forgot to sever a bullet point that had been deleted from all the other notes.

A briefing note last updated in February of 2008, read and I quote:

The Alma College Working Group … composed of municipal staff, councilors, the Municipal Heritage Committee Chair, the owners of Alma College, the owners’ solicitor, MCL and OHT staff … had proposed a design charette to explore future uses and partnership opportunities for the property. The Minister approved the proposed design charette project for funding under the Cultural Strategic Investment Fund (CSIF) 2006-07. MCL staff recommended that this project be delayed pending the outcome of the OMB decision.

Had this approval been made known at the time, we would very likely not be here discussing this tonight. 96 Moore would be well under way to the restoration of her former glory and the citizens of St. Thomas would have retained a significant piece of thier architectural and social heritage.

The OMB decision that allowed for Alma’s demolition has not yet been registered to the property title. We understand that this matter is before the courts as the property owners no longer wish to abide by the provisions of the decision that mandate a faithful and accurate replication of the tower as part of the façade of the main building. It is also the registration of the OMB decision on title that would require the City to lift the municipal designation. An interesting catch 22. However, at this point in time, the property remains of municipal significance, we have an Ontario Heritage Trust Report that confirms its provincial significance and we have record of proof that there had been an approval of funding from the province to restore the property.

It is imperative that what remains of the property, the site, the buildings and geographical structures be protected immediately.

We would like to submit to council tonight a letter requesting the enforcement of AMinimum Property Standards@ as prescribed in section 35.3 of the Ontario Heritage Act on the remaining Alma structures namely the chapel, music building, ampitheatre, fence and gates.

We would also request that the site be cleaned up. We would request that the property be cleaned up of all debris, retaining the foundation and footprint of the original building and the bill forwarded to the property owners.

We would also respectfully request that a committee of members of this council and of our group be established to work towards a conclusion that will best preserve the integrity and heritage of the property.

Our community has suffered a great loss. There can be some future for the Alma campus if we receive the support of this council. We are willing to work with you and lobby the Provincial Government to enforce the Ontario Heritage Act and make good on their original approval for funding.

Thank you for your time.

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