September 17, 2012 proved an exciting day in the life of St. Thomas, as students returned to Wellington Street School for the first time in several years.
The former Thames Valley District School Board facility, purchased by the city in 2011 to provide parking spaces for the new consolidated courthouse, was being revitalized as the St. Thomas campus of Algoma University.
And, four days after the opening day of classes, the public was invited to the celebration party.
“This is a great day for Algoma University and it’s also a great day for St. Thomas and Elgin county,” enthused Algoma president Richard Myers.
“You’ve made my St. Thomas a richer place today and it’s a richer place for all of us,” added Andrew Gunn, trustee for the estate of Dorothy Palmer, which contributed more than $1 million to the refurbishment of the heritage school.
Fast forward 20 months and the headiness of that day is being put to the test.
The university announced this week because of lower than anticipated demand, it is deferring registration for the fall 2014 program at its St. Thomas campus.
However, Brian Leahy, director of extension programming at Algoma, stresses the university is committed to St. Thomas and expects to “re-launch in the fall of 2015.”
Already the naysayers are crowing, “told you so, it will never work.”
As the university’s biggest booster, Gunn told the T-J on Friday this isn’t a setback, it’s an opportunity.
“When we moved to bring Algoma to St. Thomas, the emphasis was put on trying to attract university programming to St. Thomas,” Gunn pointed out.
“Now we have the opportunity for a bit of a broader community engagement and to really communicate to Algoma what is going to be effective in sustainable programming over the long term for St. Thomas.”
Ever the visionary, Gunn is frank about the potential of Algoma, in conjunction with the success achieved to date at the St. Thomas campus of Fanshawe College.
“I guess when I started on this I thought if we can offer programming in the technical areas at Fanshawe and build them up in St. Thomas and also offer something on the liberal arts and sciences side at Algoma, that’s a great balance.
“And I still think that is achievable. This is a tough time for smaller communities in how to reinvent themselves in the wake of the decline of the older assembly-line type of manufacturing.
“This is an opportunity to hear from more people and engage more people.”
Algoma’s commitment to St. Thomas in 2011 directly led to the rebirth of one of the city’s beautiful heritage schools.
We can only hope this setback for Algoma is temporary and its 2015 re-launch will ensure a fruitful future for the former Wellington Street School as an academic cradle.
BRING ON THE FACTS
Reader Mark Tinlinthis week submitted a thought-provoking letter to the editor calling for a time-out on the police HQ debate — something we hinted at in this corner last week.
“Council is debating a major city expenditure in a ‘fact vacuum’,” writes Tinlin.
Based on Monday’s city council agenda, a bevy of reports may just put an end to the “accusations, innuendos and misinformation” Tinlin references.
First up is a report documenting all areas of the current police home in the Colin McGregor Justice Building that contain materials with asbestos.
Thousands and thousands of square feet of acoustic ceiling tile and vinyl floor tile “that can remain in place until major system upgrading or maintenance is undertaken,” according to a survey prepared by T. Harris Environmental Management.
The report concludes, “All asbestos repair or removal must be conducted according to Ontario Regulation 278/05, Regulation respecting Asbestos on Construction Projects and in Buildings and Repair Operations – made under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.”
Keep in mind every member of council agrees the police need a safe and healthy work environment, whether at the Colin McGregor Justice Building or in a new facility.
The second report up recommends a cost analysis of renovating the existing police station which would specify “which tasks would relate to elements such as building code compliance, accessibility compliance and remediation of potential environmental issues such as asbestos abatement.
This analysis would bring to council a Class C costing for the project and enable an apples-to-apples comparison to the price tag of a new purpose-built police station.
And then there is the site plan review of the existing police facility undertaken by the city’s municipal accessibility advisory committee.
The committee advises there are no accessible washrooms anywhere in the building; the existing elevator does not reach the basement and is not wide enough; the workspaces are not accessible; not all doorways meet current standards; the emergency system in the building is not accessible to disabled people and the building suffers from poor lighting.
The final report is the request for proposal for architectural services, with the winning submission from the Ventin Group, which will provide architectural services for a new building at an estimated cost of $648,000.
That’s about half the figure being bandied about right now in a video.
Perhaps the time-out won’t be required and the facts will speak for themselves.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“In everyday life, just as in hockey, we sometimes have to take a time-out to reflect and consider our position. Let’s encourage that now.”
Reader Mark Tinlin in a letter to the editor published Friday in the Times-Journal with his observation city council is debating whether to build new or renovate the existing police station “in the total absence of any facts.”
City Scope appears Saturday in the Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.