Hopping on a bus bound for London may soon be a reality for St. Thomas and Elgin county residents.
The city is about to pitch a pilot project to the province seeking funding support for regional transit connectivity for residents of St. Thomas, Central Elgin, Southwold, Malahide and Aylmer.
The undertaking was a recommendation of the Transit Strategic Plan presented to city council a month ago, although the pilot project would go beyond the one-year test suggested in that report.
As outlined Monday (Dec. 16) by Mayor Joe Preston at the reference committee meeting, the three-year undertaking would see a Monday through Sunday service operating from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The bus would leave St. Thomas on the hour for each trip, although Preston stressed these times and hours of operation could be adjusted.
Most of the trips would run from the transit hub at the Smart Centre to White Oaks Mall in London with connections to several London Transit services.
Twice per day a bus would make separate runs to and from Port Stanley and to Aylmer and return.
These would be morning/afternoon trips with stops in Union en route to and from Port Stanley and in New Sarum on the Aylmer run.
Potential stops on the London service could include Lynhurst and the 401/Wellington Road commercial district.
All trips on the three routes would be 30 minutes each way with one-way fares of $10 and $15 return.
The annual operating cost is projected at $475,000 with fare revenue coming in at $150,000 for a total cost of $325,000 per year.
As such, the city is seeking $975,000 from the province for the three-year project.
Earlier this year, the provincial government approved funding through March of 2023 for a regional service linking London with Strathroy-Caradoc and Sarnia.
Buses are expected to roll beginning next April with three weekday round trips and two on weekends.
As city manager Wendell Graves noted back in July of this year, the city’s social services and housing hub – Phase 1 of which is now open at 230 Talbot Street – is saddled with a “soft” business case concerning Phase 2.
That building was to include a childcare facility and 24 additional housing units on the second and third floors.
In a report to council in June, Graves warned: “preliminary cost estimates for the construction of the proposed Phase 2 project are high.”
He added, “At this point, the actual business case for the Phase 2 project is soft and the cost per residential unit is projected to be fairly high ($290,515 per unit).
Complicating matters is the fact the city has received $2.6 million in funding for the childcare space, with the understanding it must be operational by December of next year.
That required a Plan B which will see a standalone childcare centre to be located on the St. Catharine Street parking lot, across from the former Colin McGregor Justice Building.
The new location will still allow for 88 childcare spaces as originally planned and council members got a first look at a rendering and floor plan for the single-storey facility at Monday’s (Dec. 16) reference committee meeting.
When completed before the end of next year, the centre would be “basically self-sufficient,” advised Graves, with the city entering into a formal agreement with an outside operator.
Some of the construction material would come from an Element 5 facility, however not the $32 million, 125,000 sq. ft. cross-laminated timber plant to be constructed in the Dennis Drive Industrial Park.
Element 5 has an existing plant in Ripon, Quebec which produces solid wood panels made with multiple layers of lumber planks cross-laminated with environmentally friendly adhesives.
The estimated construction cost (HST included) is just over $4 million.
As currently designed, the centre would face St. Catharine Street.
Parents would have to walk their children down the street to the front entrance which raised concerns with several councillors.
With no direct entrance from the parking lot, Coun. Gary Clarke suggested parents may stop their vehicle at the front entrance for drop off, resulting in congestions on St. Catharine Street.
Coun. Steve Peters wondered if a drop-off zone could be considered on St. Catharine Street at the main entrance.
And, Coun. Mark Tinlin suggested the building could be more energy efficient through the installation of solar panels mounted on the sloped roof.
The original intent was to have the project tendered by mid-September, “With a construction start before fall is done,” noted Graves.
The hope now is to tender before the end of next month on what Graves described as “a fairly simple design.”
CRITICAL CARE FOR OUR HOSPITALS
When the province announces it is investing in hospitals we assume it is directed toward the provision of critical health care for patients.
At a funding announcement Wednesday (Dec. 18), Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek indicated the Ford government is allocating dollars for much-needed critical attention to the hospitals themselves.
As such, St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital is to receive $1.2 million to maintain infrastructure and ensure a safe and comfortable environment for patients, advised Yurek.
In addition, London Health Sciences Centre will get almost $6.7 million while St. Joseph’s Health Care in London is in line for $2.1 million.
“Seemingly small things like well-functioning roofs, windows or heating and air conditioning systems, fire alarms and back-up generators can make the world of difference to a patient’s care,” pointed out Yurek in a media release.
The funding is part of the province’s pledge to invest $27 billion in hospital infrastructure projects over a 10-year period.
“We know the promise of quality care must also include a safe, functioning, clean and welcoming environment,” added Robert Biron, STEGH president and CEO.
“So maintaining our infrastructure in our facilities is an ongoing responsibility and one that is a significant undertaking.
“This is particularly important for facilities like ours, older facilities. It requires investments.”
“it will ensure in a hospital’s budget that funds don’t have to be diverted . . . in order to alleviate a certain infrastructure emergency.”
Biron noted the hospital is undertaking four major investments this year: replacement of the heat reclaim unit in the south building, plumbing upgrades, improvements to the main entrance off Elm Street and replacement of two exterior doors.
Those four projects will eat up much of the $1.2 million in infrastructure funding.
When asked how this infrastructure top-up will help with hospital wait times and hallway health care Yurek responded, “it will ensure in a hospital’s budget that funds don’t have to be diverted . . . in order to alleviate a certain infrastructure emergency.
“It will ensure the money in the budget is definitely going to front-line patient care.”
Back in October, STEGH received $1.47 million in provincial funding, part of $68 million earmarked for small- and medium-sized hospitals in Ontario.
At that time, Biron indicated the dollars will correct “an inequity in funding that has been longstanding for our hospitals across the province.
“It will be used for operating the hospital, for our core services. The previous funding formula, which has been around since about 2012, grossly disadvantaged medium-sized hospitals.”
THE READERS’ WRITE
Responding to our item last week on police funding directed toward human trafficking, Kelly H Franklin posted the following on the City Scope Twitter feed.
“Grateful for Police Chief and Officers forward-thinking to apply and address/police issues important not only to response but to community policing prevention engagement. Keeping our Officers well while addressing current trends means safety for all involved. CUDOS STPA.”
Still with police funding, Ken G missed the mark with his comment.
“Our community needs an indoor multi-sport facility with multiple gyms. Basketball, volleyball, futsal & more need this space desperately. Missed $ opportunity for our community.”
True Ken, however, the province’s solicitor general is not responsible for doling out dollars for sports facilities. Likewise, Chief Chris Herridge did not apply for funding to construct a multi-sport facility, which is beyond the police mandate.
Our mid-week story on the Alma College property prompted Steve Ogden to post the following on LinkedIn.
“Oh, well. That’s the price of progress, I suppose. I’m not native to St. Thomas, but I’ve been here for over 40 years. In that time I’ve seen a number of gorgeous buildings demolished to be replaced by something of (I suppose) commercial value. Alma College, though, was a giant — on several levels. What’s going on here feels disrespectful, and sad.”
On Facebook, Ed van der Maarel wrote the following.
“As a heritage architect, it is wrong to replicate lost historic elements into a new design. However, the significance of this site and the importance of Alma to St. Thomas deserves historic gestures around the site, i.e. restoration of the amphitheatre, etc. Also, so happy to have 420 units next to my residential property.”
OF CHRISTMAS PAST
A ruling this month by the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal to remove the requirement of the existing 2008 Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) order that any development or redevelopment on the site of Alma College includes a replication of the north facade prompted a flashback to a letter sent to this corner almost a dozen years ago.
On Dec. 3, 2008, Rob Foster of Brampton, Ontario passed along the following observation to Aileen Carroll who, at the time, was the province’s minister of culture.
Bob wrote, “I recently drove the 2 hours from my home town of Brampton, Ontario, to the beautiful City of St.Thomas. It was a windy & snow-swept day and as I pulled up to 96 Moore Street, the place in which beautiful and historic Alma College stood for 130 years, tears came to my eyes, as I was looking over to the quaint little chapel because one of the roof tiles blew completely off and tumbled across the rubble-filled property.
“If you were to read the history of Alma College, you would know that the Christmas season at 96 Moore Street, when the college was filled with students, was a special place to be.
“Students who didn’t travel home spent the Christmas season at the college, some of them seeing snow for the very first time.
“Ninety-six Moore Street was the place many of these students called home and it was always filled with joy and laughter. Fast forward to 2008 and the chapel sits abandoned and neglected, as does the music building, slowly giving in to the elements, as the Ministry of Culture does ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to protect the legacy.
“I know it may seem strange that people still have passion for this property but if you had the same passion you would realize 96 Moore Street is historic and the land alone deserves protection under the Heritage Act.
“But seeing that two buildings still remain standing, this makes the legacy all the more important.
“I challenge you to go stand at the gates of 96 Moore Street on a snowy day and just imagine the college as it once was, decorated for the Christmas season and students having a snowball fight out front of the college and just having fun.
“We have an obligation to all of those who built the college, and to all those who once walked the halls of that grand old building. We lost the main structure on May 28, 2008, but we could save the two remaining buildings if you would designate the property and force the owner to STOP his “demolition by neglect” of the chapel and the music building.
“The fact that your ministry has failed to designate 96 Moore Street makes me wonder what exactly the culture ministry is doing to protect our built heritage.
“I thought by now you would have seen the importance of this property. But I’m not sure if our heritage is even on the radar screen of the ministry of culture.
“So, as I leave 96 Moore Street, I glance back at the chapel and the music building, darkened and abandoned. I wonder if they will ever be decorated for Christmas again.
“I say quietly to myself, maybe the Christmas spirit will change Minister Carroll’s mind, but then I realize those happy endings only happen in the movies.”
OUR CHRISTMAS WISH TO YOU
As has been the custom for some time now, we offer these last-minute – but appropriate throughout the year – gift suggestions to distribute in the appropriate fashion.
To your enemy, forgiveness. To an opponent, tolerance. To a friend, your heart. To a customer, service. To all, charity. To every child, a good example. To yourself, respect.
And, to all faithful City Scope readers, in particular, those with birthdays at this time of year – when your special day too often is lost in the hustle and bustle that is the lead-up to the day itself – may this Christmas bring you peace, health and happiness.
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