Attracting interested and involved participants was not an issue Monday evening (March 27) at an information night to introduce a partnership between the STEAM Centre, housed in the former Wellington Public School, and the Thames Valley District School Board. The pilot project will see participating Grade 10 students from the city’s three TVDSB high schools work collaboratively for one semester before returning to their home schools.
One of the biggest proponents of the STEAM Centre is board member Andrew Gunn, trustee of the Dorothy Palmer Estate which contributed $638,000 to help launch the alternative education project.
Gunn sees the St. Thomas centre as a template for what can be undertaken in communities across the province threatened with losing their schools.
“We arranged this with the idea the STEAM Centre could be something that eventually other communities could look at as an example. We’re seeing all these debates and discussions around rural schools and closure of schools. Maybe now there is an opportunity to have a STEAM centre in some of these schools to provide an alternative education, but also one that is very forward-looking.”
MP Karen Vecchio at the STEAM Centre Education Centre open house March 27, 2017.
Linking with the school board really is a no-brainer, suggested Gunn, who in 2006 urged city council to deny a demolition request by the owners of Alma College and instead consider his group’s ambitious plan for a small, liberal arts university housed at the former school for girls.
“Arguably I think it’s exactly what students going into Grade 10 need at this point. The jobs of the future, when we’re looking at coding and machine learning and the need for people to understand digital creative technologies, this should be looked at by rural communities across the province as an example.”
Gunn’s boosterism isn’t limited to the STEAM centre, he’s an ambassador for the city at large.
“I’ve been pretty excited in the last couple of years to watch our city council take an aggressive approach to building out our community to serve young families and the growing need for sports and recreation, and we’ve seen that with the baseball and soccer complexes. And with education, the library has all been revamped and now having the STEAM centre here, suddenly there are a lot of resources for parents with young kids and if I’m looking at southwestern Ontario and you don’t want to necessarily live in London, now you’ve got Stratford and St. Thomas as key smaller cities with a lot going on and a lot to offer. Given the property values here and the amenities, I think people are going to look at it.”
And he sees digital technology complementing the city’s long association with the manufacturing sector.
“What we have is the next generation of manufacturing. What’s really exciting is I think we are a community of makers. People who want to build things, make things and design things. And it’s really that last part, the emphasis on design, we can bring in with all the digital technology and that gives kids the ability to creatively take their ideas, make a digital file and print it on a 3D printer and see it as a prototype and that just sparks their learning. We’ve seen kids as young as Grade 5 using the little robots we’ve got here and that’s prompted them to actually talk about traffic studies and how to design and lay out a city because they can run these little robots like cars. You take these little sparks and then you build the education on that.
“St. Thomas has been a manufacturing centre for so long and this is like a logical extension of that. To really embrace all things digital and have an education centre that grows that. When I first started thinking about what this space could look like, and I started doing some research and asking questions, I thought we have an opportunity here to look upon a 25-year arc. How do we engage kids from when they’re five or six years old and take them through elementary school, into high school and build that knowledge here in St. Thomas and provide that awesome experience for students.”
MERGER MEET AND GREET GENERATES LITTLE INTEREST
That sound heard emanating from the CASO station Thursday evening was a huge sigh of relief from the parties involved in the proposed utility union. Based on the meagre turnout, it would appear those impacted by the proposed merger of St. Thomas Energy and Chatham-Kent’s Entegrus have few concerns and even less interest.
It was a similar story at an earlier come-and-meet-the-players meeting in Chatham, where attendance was pegged at the half-dozen mark.
St. Thomas Energy acting CEO Rob Kent, left, and Entegrus president and CEO Jim Hogan, right side of post.
Oh, there was no shortage of bodies in the station for the two-hour meet and greet as both parties arrived with large contingents. The Entegrus team was led by president and CEO Jim Hogan and chief financial officer Chris Cowell.
St. Thomas Energy acting CEO Rob Kent headed the home town squad, which included members of the board of directors, city manager Wendell Graves and at least one member of council, Linda Stevenson, who sits on the board.
By all accounts, city customers will enjoy service provided by the new entity – likely in place by Jan. 1 of 2018 – that exceeds today’s standards.
As for the financial details – including the more than $5 million in delinquent water bill payments and long-term debt estimated in excess of $20 million – those are part and parcel of the due diligence process expected to wrap up this month or in May, at the latest.
One other financial detail that will require attention. Will the city employ the post-merger utility to collect monthly water bills from city residents? In 2015, the cost of performing said service was almost $320,000 and Entegrus does not provide a similar undertaking to the municipalities it serves.
CORRECTION: In an April 5 communication from Sarah Regnier-Pittman, Entegrus corporate communications specialist, she advises “We do provide full customer & collection services for the Chatham-Kent PUC, Strathroy Caradoc Water as well as Newbury Water.
At the beginning of the month, the City of St. Thomas released its list of the salaries of employees earning in excess of $100,000 in 2016, as required by the Public Sector Salary Disclosure Act of 1996. Pertinent details can be viewed here. On Friday, the province released the full list of those on the so-called Sunshine List and here are some key salary figures from St. Thomas and Elgin.
At the county, the top earner was soon-to-retire CAO Mark McDonald at $192,706. The county’s barrister and solicitor Steve Card earned $158,132.
Other notables include Jim Bundschuh, director of financial services, $138,310; Rhonda Duffy, director of homes and community services, $131,964; Michele Harris, administrator at Elgin Manor and Bobier Villa, $126,890; Robert Bryce, director of human resources, $126,890; Brian Masschaele, director of community and cultural services, $126,890; and Clayton Watters, director of engineering services, $126,890.
Five other county employees were included on the list, earning less than $107,000.
At the Town of Aylmer, Police Chief Andre Reymer earned $140,628 while nine other members of the force earned in excess of $100,000. Others on the Aylmer listed included Rod Tapp, director of operations, $106,801; Lisa Pelton, director of finance, $102,466; and Edward Taylor, fire chief and emergency management coordinator, $102,466.
Three Municipality of Central Elgin employees earned mention: Don Leitch, CAO, $141,254; Lloyd Perrin, director of physical services, $126,314; and Karen Harris, director of financial services, $121,231.(March
St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital placed 29 employees on the salary disclosure list. Outgoing CEO Paul Collins earned $174,733 while Nancy Whitmore, who assumed the role last fall after moving up from vice-president, earned $226,760. Other notables: Fasahat Wasty, pathologist. $333,376; Mary Stewart, vice-president, $175,000; Karen Davies, vice-president, $175,000;
Dr. Joyce Locke, Medical Officer of Health at Elgin St. Thomas Public Health earned $298,739; executive director Cynthia St. John, $150,908; director of health protection Catherine Walker $114,619; and Carolyn Kuntz, director of health promotion, $114,419.
Derrick Drouillard, who took over as executive director at Family and Children’s Services of St. Thomas and Elgin at this time last year earned $139,021, while retiring executive director Rod Potgieter earned $124,792. Brian Flint, director of services earned $109,136.
PIPE THEM ABOARD
Earlier this week we profiled artist Scott McKay, who is fashioning a pair of sculptures to be positioned atop the St. Thomas Elevated Park when it opens in August.
What we did not touch upon was his sense of humour and his love of the bagpipes.
As an aside, the former is likely a prerequisite for mastering the latter.
In any event, we planted the seed with Serge Lavoie, president of On Track St. Thomas, of having McKay pipe invited guests on to the elevated park when it opens Aug. 27. Nothing says stirring like the skirl of the pipes. Well, to some folk anyway.
When apprised of the idea McKay noted, “As my bagpipe teacher says, he calls it Amazing Disgrace,” alluding to the piper’s standard, Amazing Grace.
You have to admit, McKay’s humour is in fine tune.
We’ll keep working on the opening ceremonies.
HAVE YOUR SAY
We previously pondered over a suggestion floated some time back about the possibility of purchasing the property now occupied by Giant Tiger for the purpose of recreating the beautiful park that once graced the entrance to the CASO station.
That prompted the following from Harrison Cole.
“With the abundance of vacant commercial properties in St.Thomas, it would be nice if the Giant Tiger property could be returned to its former use as a park. If the need for a new grocery retailer is present, why not use the Zellers building? The acquisition of the Giant Tiger property would significantly enhance the street presence of the CASO station. A park in front of the station would blend excellently with the planned redevelopment of the railway lands into a city park. I’m sure the city doesn’t have ample funding for projects like this, but it would nicely fit in with the city’s current theme of promoting the downtown.”
Questions and comments may be emailed to
: City Scope