A return to core business or fire sale at Ascent?


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Couldn’t help but notice this week the Ascent office/workshop on Harper Rd. was not only for sale, but now had a ‘sold’ sign out front.
Seems odd in that the media were invited out to that same location earlier this year to get a first-hand look at the projects undertaken at the former ECM Controls, purchased by St. Thomas Energy in November, 2010.
At that time, ECM Controls employed 10 people who designed and built industrial controls. As shareholder and owner of St. Thomas Holding (the parent company), city council unanimously green-lighted the move, asking no questions nor providing comment on the move.
So what happened in the intervening five years?
We called Ascent CEO Ron Osborne on Friday to determine what prompted the sale.Ascent
“You’ll remember when we put out our announcement on restructuring (in April of this year) we talked about exiting the controls business and the majority of that operation (on Gaylord) was the controls business.
“The other business there was street lighting and traffic business which used to be at Edward St. and they are going to move back.”
Speaking with Osborne at the restructuring announcement he stressed, “Part of the decision is we’re not going to continue in the area of large renewables projects. And a lot of those are winding down anyway. And we’re not going to continue in the controls and automation business area. So it’s a real focus on the areas the company is really, really strong at.”
Those areas, according to Osborne, are substation construction, traffic and street lighting, pole line construction and high-voltage maintenance services.
“There are some expenses that, obviously, we’re eliminating as part of that (restructuring),” Osborne explained at the time. “And we’re going to look at assets, whether it’s facilities and vehicles and things like that.”
Getting rid of ECM was “an obvious one” Osborne admitted Friday.
Are there other cuts then on the horizon?
“I don’t see anything at Edward St.,” he stressed. “We’re going to look at all our properties and make sure we’re in the right spot. It’s trying to get as much out of the operation as we can.”
Reading between the lines, can’t help but feel Ascent is bleeding a lot of red ink right now.
We asked Osborne about an audited financial statement generally presented to council in April each year.
He assured that was the case this year.
Speaking to city treasurer David Aristone after our conversation with Osborne, he had no recollection of such a document but would confirm the status with CAO Wendell Graves on Monday.
More to follow.

GO FOR THE BEST
In a letter to council for its July meeting, St. Thomas Police Chief Darryl Pinnell wrote, “it has become apparent that there is a need to hire a project manager who would serve as a liaison between the city, police service and the various contractors, trades and companies involved in the project.”

Proposed St. Thomas police station to be build adjacent to the Timken Centre.

Proposed St. Thomas police station to be build adjacent to the Timken Centre.


The chief of course was referring to construction of the new police HQ adjacent to the Timken Centre.
Pinnell continued, “The ideal person for this position would have a background in policing and an intimate knowledge of the daily operations of the St. Thomas Police Service. The ideal person would also have the best interests of the service, the city and the taxpayers in mind.”
Couldn’t agree more.
And that individual should likewise have a strong architectural, design and engineering background with all the proper qualifications to assume charge as project manager.
And the best way to select the most qualified person? Through a request for proposal process, as undertaken with the hiring of a project manager to oversee construction of the new home of Elgin St. Thomas Public Health.
In that instance, the individual brought the job home on time and under budget. A tribute to the health unit and a blessing for city ratepayers.
After all, we don’t want a repeat of the Timken Centre fiasco where a part-time project manager was hired.
Let’s do it right the first time or we’ll be revisiting the mistakes years down the road.

BEST USE OF DONATION?
Certainly a banner week for St. Thomas Public Library, the beneficiary of a $1 million gift courtesy of the estate of Mary Ann Neeley, a former English teacher at Alma College and Parkside Collegiate Institute.

St. Thomas Public Library CEO Rudi Denham, left, and board chairman Greg Grondin stand with antique furniture from the Mary Ann Neely estate. The library announced a $1 million donation from the estate. The money will be used to build a glass atrium at the front of the bulding.

St. Thomas Public Library CEO Rudi Denham, left, and board chairman Greg Grondin stand with antique furniture from the Mary Ann Neely estate. The library announced a $1 million donation from the estate. The money will be used to build a glass atrium at the front of the bulding.


Neeley stipulated the money be used for new materials or future renovation projects.
The plan is to use some of that legacy for a two-storey garden atrium on the west side of the Curtis St. building.
Which prompted this Facebook posting from reader Scott Northcott.
“Why not use the money to open a location at Elgin Mall?”
A fair enough question.
Scott’s query caught the attention of chief librarian Rudi Denham who took the time to post this response.
“We are thrilled with the donation,” writes Denham. “We would love to have a branch location, in the mall or elsewhere, but the cost of a branch is in the staffing, and that’s not an appropriate expense for the donation.
“As always, donations have strings attached, and are intended for “enhancements” — something special that we might not have the funds for. The ongoing cost of a branch should be supported by the City of St Thomas, rather than by a one-time donation.
“We look forward to continuing to serve the City of St. Thomas … better and better!”
Hate to nitpick but I’m sure many library patrons would see a branch as an enhancement, “something special that we might not have the funds for.”
Much more of a direct benefit to patrons perhaps than an atrium. And as another reader pointed out, didn’t the library just undergo a major renovation?
Then again, there is that sticky point of ongoing staffing cost and financial support from the city. But couldn’t that be a consideration at budget time?

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

By a 3-2 margin, Southwold Township council threw its support behind a proposed solar farm on the eastern portion of the former Ford Canada St. Thomas Assembly Plant.

By a 3-2 margin, Southwold Township council threw its support behind a proposed solar farm on the eastern portion of the former Ford Canada St. Thomas Assembly Plant.


“We can’t leave this as a burden to a council 20 years from now. This is an unknown we want tied up.”
Coun. Robert Monteith at a special meeting of Southwold Township council this past week to deal with the proposed solar farm on the eastern portion of the former Ford Canada St. Thomas Assembly Plant.
City Scope appears Saturday in the Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be emailed to ian.mccallum@sunmedia.ca.

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