Preservation of facade ‘not the best way to respect Alma’



Alma College plaque

Response to our item Saturday (Aug. 4) about Lara Leitch and her assertion she and other members of the Alma College International Alumnae Association “want the college’s memory and façade preserved because of its cultural and architectural heritage in the city,” was both swift and staunchly opposed to preservation.
Leitch was referring 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.
It is Leitch’s belief city council and the developer of a proposed three-apartment complex on the Moore Street property are trying to skirt this ruling.
Within hours of publication Saturday, Donna Robertson emailed this corner to stress preserving the facade of the main building does little to honour the former school for girls.
Robertson is president of the alumnae association and wrote, “The position of the Alma College International Alumnae (which represents all decades of alumnae) today is that replicating the facade is not the best way to respect Alma. The materials and craftsmanship are not available today and the results would be more like a Disney World structure.”

Alma bell

Mike Baker, left, Elgin County Museum curator; Jill Zubick, whose family previously owned the Alma College property; and Donna Robertson, president of the Alma College International Alumnae, with the bell that disappeared for many years in this 2013 photo.

Barbara O’Brien, secretary of the alumnae association, concured and wrote, “we trust the judgement of city council, and hope they would rather see something go up on the property, than have the builder back out because of expense.”
Both challenged the relevance of a petition and emails Leitch presented to city council in June.
“Lara Leitch submitted 60 unsigned emails and, for the most part, no comments on them either,” Robertson pointed out.
“Her petition of 5,000 was done back in about 2006 so has no relevance to the submitted proposal today. Misleading and irrelevant. Not sure why three or four professional Alma alumnae from overseas should sway any decision.”
O’Brien added, “I fail to understand how approximately 60 current petitions, and 5,000 very old petitions could hold much meaning for St. Thomas city council. In reality, the alumnae has absolutely no say in what happens to the property.”
Robertson stressed the developer “has committed to including numerous plaques and areas to honour Alma. The alumnae will be included regarding the location and content of the historical aspects.”
She continues, “The developer plans to restore the amphitheatre, such an important part of what was Alma. We plan to be involved in that effort.
“We are pleased to have been included in the development process but we understand that the decision is one to be made by the citizens of St Thomas.”


St. Thomas history buff Ryan Belanger, left, and London developer Gino Reale, owner of the Alma College property, hold the tin container that served as a time capsule unearthed inside the McLachlin Hall cornerstone found buried amongst the rubble. The capsule, believed lost, contained newspapers, drawings, coins, a postage stamp and other items.

O’Brien reiterated the fact the alumnae have been included in the development process.
“The builder and architect both spoke at our annual reunion in June. They described very clearly what they hoped to see happen, and explained why it is not at all fiscally responsible to replicate the facade. Let me be clear, this reunion is open to all Alma College alumnae.”
Alma College was much more than a building with an illustrious history, suggested Robertson, and trying to rebuild it will prove a mistake.
“We feel that the best way to have Alma live on is more fittingly through our Scholarship Fund. Every year (for eight years now) we give a scholarship grant to a student from a St. Thomas high school for their ongoing education.
“We are working on raising money so that the fund will be able to provide a scholarship in perpetuity through the London Community Foundation.”
It is time to move forward, asserted O’Brien.
“Our old alma mater is gone, and as sad as it is, we realize that. The contribution of the alumnae is our scholarship fund for female students of St. Thomas high schools. We hope this scholarship fund will live on in perpetuity, and is much more important than bricks and mortar.”
Both Robertson and O’Brien stressed the last thing the alumnae wants is to scare off developers and have the property sit vacant for many more years.
How much of a fitting tribute would that present?

Related post:

Alumnae want Alma facade front and centre on proposed development


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