What next for poor old Alma, or at least the mounds of rubble that in better days fit piece by piece into the magnificent edifice at the end of Moore St. that watched ever so stately over St. Thomas?
The 11-acre property is no longer in the hands of the Zubick family of London having been handed over to Gino Reale, a developer from the same city.
No firm plans for the site of the former school for girls that operated between 1881 and 1998, Reale told us on Wednesday, but he insisted he has two immediate goals.
“I want to clean up the site and get rid of all the garbage and concrete that’s spread everywhere and then we’re going to do an environmental assessment,” said Reale.
“That’s all I can do. And hopefully, during that process we’re going to get ideas from people and our (investment) group. Then we’ll come back and put a plan in place.”
As of week’s end, he had not approached the city to initiate any discussions.
“We’re looking forward to hearing from them and what they might be interested in doing,” advised city manager Wendell Graves on Friday.
There are heritage considerations still in place for the property that need to be addressed, Graves stressed.
“What is still in effect is we undertook an Ontario Municipal Board hearing so there are requirements for the future development of the property. And those are registered on title in terms of replication of the facade of the original building.”
In other words any new structure would have to incorporate a front facade in the design in keeping with the original main building that succumbed to arson in May of 2008.
“As with any process, if somebody comes with a creative idea that is relatively in keeping with the original intent, there might be listening ears, but as it stands right now that is carved in stone,” Graves noted.
As for the near derelict chapel and music building?
“They have the ability to apply for a demolition permit for everything on the site, and at that point in time, what would happen is the heritage designation would be lifted save and except for the conditions relating to the facade replication.”
But come talk to us, Graves encouraged.
“He really needs to talk with city staff. For example for site alterations or grading, he would need to have authority to do that from our environmental services department. We’re here when he calls. The cleanup would be a big step in itself.”
City abdicates heritage responsibilities
OUR READERS WRITE
A heartfelt letter to the editor this week from George and Jill Zubick, the aforementioned former owners of Alma College, to announce, “We are finished with Alma.”
No doubt the Zubicks have many detractors in the community and beyond who would condemn the husband and wife team for their role in the demolition by neglect of Alma.
They write, “Unfortunately, we never realized the dream of rebuilding Alma. We had great plans. We wanted to restore the building, and bring it back to its former glory. The situation came down to the fact that we could not do it. And for that, we are sorry for our part.”
By way of explanation, George and Jill note, “What we did not know was that the way it had been built and having the historic specifications on it scared most of the developers away. The added environmental concerns added to the story. The need to reconstruct the façade put it into a financial burden that no one wanted to tackle.
“To the people of St Thomas, we want to thank you. For the most part, you have been friendly and encouraging.”
SUTHERLAND PRESS COUNTDOWN
It’s still standing, defiantly we might add, however the Sutherland Press building is living on borrowed time.
Behind the scenes, things are being “mobilized,” according to Graves.
“Our building officials have had a meeting with the (demolition) contractor this week and they’re going to begin to get mobilized.”
A minor obstacle at this point is the adjacent St. Thomas Transit building.
“One of the first tasks that has to be done is there needs to be some repositioning of the hydro service because of the way it feeds into our transit building beside it has some impact, so St. Thomas Energy will be doing that right away.
And then demolition of the four-storey building, originally built for the Noble Manufacturing Co. in 1913, will begin before month’s end.
With good news, added Graves.
“And from what I’m hearing there will be no need to close down Talbot Street at all for the project, but certainly some impact on Moore Street.”
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“We pray that you will work differently with the new owner. Listen to his ideas. Work together. He has some great plans. Learn to compromise. Be honest with the situation and what can and cannot be accomplished. Do this for the people of St Thomas, for the neighbours of Alma, and for the alumnae of the college.”
George and Jill Zubick, the former owners of Alma College who this week sold the property to London developer Gino Reale.
City Scope appears Saturday in the St. Thomas Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.Follow @ianscityscope