It’s been a decade since the main Alma College building succumbed to an arson-related fire, yet it appears things are heating up again with regard to the Moore Street property.
The design of a proposed three-building apartment complex on the site of the former school for girls is not being embraced by Lara Leitch and many members at the junior level (those who generally attended in the 1970s and 1980s) of the Alma College International Alumnae.
Leitch, the former vice-principal of Alma and the former president of the Alma College International Alumnae Association, has been fighting on behalf of Alma behind the scenes for a long time.
She appeared at the June 11 city council meeting where she presented a binder with petitions signed by alumnae from 11 countries and the signatures of 5,588 Elgin county and city resident who “want the college’s memory and façade preserved because of its cultural and architectural heritage in the city.”
Those alumnae who signed the petition include an architect in Mexico, a surgeon in Dubai and another surgeon in Germany.
“These are people who are professionals,” reminds Leitch, “who attended Alma and went on to become very successful.”
Leitch points to the 2008 Ontario Municipal Board decision that determined any new development must recreate the north façade of Alma to a depth of three metres.
She stresses, “This is registered on title.”
It is her belief “City council and the new developer are trying to go around this. The junior alumnae are trying to make them honour the OMB decision because of the cultural and architectural heritage of the property.”
The college was chartered by the Ontario Legislature in 1877 and Leitch cites many other attributes and, perhaps, lesser-known facts:
- For more than 130 years it boosted the economy of St.Thomas. It has always been a tourist attraction, a landmark
- It was an architectural beacon because of its Gothic lines beautifully designed by notable architect James Balfour
- The largest hotel in St. Thomas
- Employed over 90 people yearly during the 1970s and 1980s
- Welcomed international students
- Not only renowned for its academics but also for the music, art and dance programs
- Had high academic standards; inspected by Ontario Ministry of Education; streamlined students to higher education
- Held Special English Language program yearly and during summer sessions for international students
- Held United Church conferences during summer months
- Sheltered British students during the Second World War
- Fostered music concerts not only for its student body but also city residents
- Shared its pool facilities and the chapel with city residents
- Fostered social international relations amongst its student body; created senior and junior’ international alumnae association with branches over 100 years
Leitch advises, “We are politicking behind the scenes on social media . . . And, if anything, what they (the city and developer) should do is come to us for a compromise. At the present time, we are gung-ho on upholding the OMB decision.”
In a conversation yesterday (Aug. 3) city manager Wendell Graves notes at the August 13 meeting of city council, there will be a staff report relating to the Alma College development.
“We are proposing to have a public meeting early in September,” he stresses.
As always, watch this corner for updates.
MUNICIPAL CANDIDATE PROFILE: DAVE MATHERS
There are few candidates in the 2018 municipal election more connected to St. Thomas and area than Dave Mathers. Nor is it likely any individual seeking a seat on council is as outspoken as the former owner of St. Thomas Dragway in Sparta and Motion Lincoln Mercury in London.
With 28 years experience in the automotive industry, the former chairman of the Ford Great Lakes Dealer Council and vice-chairman of the Ford National Dealer Council says the $100 million corporation known as the City of St. Thomas would benefit from more business acumen in the council chamber.
“I don’t want a bunch of former school teachers and what have you in there running with my tax money,” asserts Mathers.
“They know they just go to the well and there’s always money there. They have never had to meet payroll on a Friday afternoon. They don’t know what it’s like to have pressure like that.”
Mathers lists five major issues that need to be addressed by city council.
Top of the page are traffic conditions throughout the city.
“The traffic control system in St. Thomas is very out of date and I sent staff a list of 10 things they could do to improve traffic flow,” points out Mathers.
“The mandate of a traffic control system is it has to move traffic efficiently, smoothly and without causing road rage. Staff did one of the 10 things.”
He points to the intersection of South Edgeware and Burwell where the advance green westbound on South Edgeware was initiated many years ago to facilitate traffic exiting the Sterling plant.
“The Sterling plant left nine years ago and since that time they’ve built a thousand homes on the north end of Burwell Road. Yet you go there at 5 p.m. on any given day and the traffic coming to turn north on Burwell from eastbound South Edgeware is backed up. Westbound there is nobody there but they have the advance green. And the city won’t change it.”
As a booster of minor sports in St. Thomas, Mathers is a vocal advocate for a major hotel locating in the city.
“We’ve got the beautiful sports park going up on Burwell Road. We just put in a second regulation baseball diamond out at the Doug Tarry Complex. We’ve got the twin-pad arena and the only place they can stay is the Comfort Inn and they don’t have enough rooms, so people go to London and all the businesses along Talbot Street lose.”
The councillor hopeful would like to see the city invest in the animal shelter on Burwell Road. There is a need to update the facility, says Mathers, and this can be paid for by enforcing the sale of dog licenses.
He was vice-chairman and a member of the Alma College board of directors, so the preservation of heritage properties is a priority and Mathers feels more needs to be done by the city.
Married to wife Linda for 50 years, the father of three is a vocal booster of St. Thomas.
“We have so much to offer in St. Thomas, and so we need to attract new businesses, industries and residents to the city.”
IT’S GONE, SO NOW WHAT
It’s coming up on a year since the Sutherland Press building cast a shadow over the downtown and the almost park-like setting in the footprint of the four-storey structure begs the question, what next?
The property is still owner by David McGee of Toronto, who appears to have no immediate plans for the lot.
So, what is the city’s game plan?
“There has been absolutely no action from the property owner’s side,” confirmed city manager Wendell Graves on Friday (Aug. 3).
“It’s getting close and in a number of months it will be an unofficial tax sale.”
Surely McGee is not maintaining the site to the standard we see today?
“I think the parks department has been running the mower over it,” suggested Graves, “because of its downtown location.”
As we have become accustomed to over the past decade, the Sutherland Saga remains a waiting game.
FOR THE CALENDAR
The very first Arts and Culture Primer will be held this coming Thursday (Aug. 9) from 7 to 9 p.m. at Streamliners, 220 Wellington Street in St. Thomas. The primer is described as “an event where art and culture advocates come to meet and greet St. Thomas candidates for mayor and city council. Attendees can share their questions and the candidates can share their intentions and vision for art and culture. All residents are invited to “come and meet the candidates and show them what an integral role art and culture play in our community.”
On Aug. 22, the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal will hold a prehearing conference regarding Prespa Construction’s proposed development at 146-156 William Street in Port Stanley. It would be a nine-storey condo project consisting of 52 units and two commercial units at ground level. The purpose of the prehearing conference is to finalize a list of appellants, parties, and/or participants. The conference will begin at 10 a.m. in the Elgin County Administration Building at 450 Sunset Drive, St. Thomas.
Questions and comments may be emailed to: City Scope
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