My, what a difference a few days make in the life of the coronavirus outbreak. From little in the way of inconvenience to scores of cancellations, long lineups in grocery outlets and the mysterious disappearance of toilet paper from many shelves.
To get a sense of the state of preparedness at city hall, we talked with city manager Wendell Graves earlier this week.
He advised, “Last night (Monday) at city council, I advised them that our management team met with the Director of Public Health (Dr. Joyce Lock) to review what’s happening in the area and we are also upgrading our internal business continuity plans.”
To keep on top of the spread of the coronavirus, Graves noted the management team will likely be meeting on a weekly basis.
“We’re meeting quite regularly on it now,” advised Graves, “just to make sure that we’ve got a course of action in place.”
Graves added, “It’s really a national and provincial and then public health issue. We are not public health experts.
“So we will rely on what is being said by public health (Southwestern Public Health). You know, as it relates to citizens at large.
“And, we’re looking at our own internal business continuity. And our employees, we want them to have regard for anything that public health is saying in terms of travel.
“One of the things that we talked about specifically was, you know, what is the line of communication for where we as a municipal corporation and jurisdiction, where should we be taking on guidance from?
“We would rely on the public health authorities for guidance on that. And, if they suggested that certain things not take place that could draw crowds, as a community, we’d have to have regard for that.”
“I think everybody’s trying to do due diligence and be prepared. So yeah, yeah. And I think we’ll see some heightened precautions.”
Graves cited the example of Valleyview Home.
“Because those folks are a little more vulnerable and what are the proper precautions? We are being sensitive to all these things.”
Many municipalities in the province – and across the country now – are postponing events at large venues, in particular municipally owned sites or buildings.
“We would rely on the public health authorities for guidance on that. And, if they suggested that certain things not take place that could draw crowds, as a community, we’d have to have regard for that.
“And that’s the key, isn’t it? Proper cleaning precautions, from a personal level to a workspace level.”
Dr. Lock confirmed this week no cases of COVID-19 have been diagnosed in St. Thomas or Elgin county.
The health unit is now updating information for both community members and health care providers on a near-daily basis on its website at swpublichealth.ca. And, next week it will launch a dedicated COVID-19 phone line.
WILL THIS PLAN GET PARKED?
Members of council will be asked Monday (March 16) to endorse the Parks and Recreation Master Plan, part of the larger scale Positioned for Growth Study undertaken by Dillon Consulting.
The parks and recreation component of that study was farmed out to Monteith Brown Planning Consultants who incorporated an online survey, workshops and a public open house in January to produce the final copy to come before council.
The study contains 79 recommendations which Ross Tucker, Director of Parks, Recreation and Property Management, advises have been assigned a priority and a timeframe for completion through 2022 unless directed otherwise by council. The plan is available here.
It is not limited to recreational considerations as it does have a cultural component which we will touch on in a moment.
Of interest in the motion to come before council on Monday is the notation, “that this endorsement does not commit the current council or future councils to any unbudgeted expenditures.”
And furthermore, “Staff be directed to implement the recommendations contained in the plan noting that where there are budgetary implications associated with recommendations, they be vetted through the regular capital and operating budget processes.”
We mention this with reference to Section 6.3 of the plan, Supporting Local Arts and Culture.
“Staff is very pleased with the 79 recommendations that the consultant included in the implementation strategy.”
Recommendation 53 states, “Establish a more formal relationship with the St. Thomas-Elgin Public Art Centre. Partnership terms should outline requirements for annual reporting, performance measures, program planning, etc. Evaluate options for providing annual stable funding to the Public Art Centre.”
This is only rated as a medium priority and the timeline stretches out to 2026.
Wonder how this fits in with the findings of Mayor Joe Preston’s committee that he struck to deal with a policy for community grants?
And what about the Talbot Teen Centre, St. Thomas Cemetary Company and the St. Thomas Seniors Centre, all of which should be included as line items in the city budget as per a recommendation last year from Coun. Steve Peters?
And how about Recommendation 56?
“Work with community partners toward the development of a dedicated festival/event site in St. Thomas, possibly on the railway lands (pending the satisfactory resolution of environmental concerns and a viable cost-sharing and site operational agreement).
This is rated a high priority but the timing goes to 2027 and beyond.
In his report to council Tucker notes, “Staff is very pleased with the 79 recommendations that the consultant included in the implementation strategy.”
It’s a visionary plan with plenty of merit, but how pleased will city staff and council be when it comes to the reality of budgetary considerations in light of all the other demands facing the corporation?
A MOST FITTING LOCATION
A brilliant splash of colour now welcomes visitors arriving in St. Thomas at the west end of Talbot Street. A vivid example of the revitalization of the city’s western gateway.
Recently installed on the front wall of the city’s social services and housing hub at 230 Talbot Street, artist Clark McDougall’s 1964 snapshot of life along the downtown thoroughfare, Ann’s Snack Bar, is a classic example of his “black enamel” style of art.
With the city hall tower in the background, it is an iconic moment in time.
Laura Woermke, executive director of the St. Thomas Elgin Public Art Centre, explains how the work of McDougall, born in St. Thomas in 1921, has now become such a focal point on the street he captured so vividly more than 50 years ago.
She was approached some time ago by city manager Wendell Graves for suggestions on what should adorn the wall at 230 Talbot Street.
“I actually suggested that they use something from our permanent collection,” advised Woermke.
“I kind of pushed for that one. We had a few options. And we talked with the family, the Clark McDougall family. They call themselves the MacDougall group. They still hold all the copyright for most of the images. So that image of Ann’s Snack Bar, Talbot Street 1964, we hold the copyright of that but we still touched base with the family just to be sure that they know what’s coming and we honour Clark in that way.”
She continued, “And they were going to get someone to paint it but the cost was too high. So I suggested maybe a digital copy. So we used Phil Bell from St. Thomas.
“He’s a photographer and he photographs all our work here. And he photographed the piece and then we met with Van Pelt’s (Print Plus) on how it was going to be laid out.”
“But I said, you know, this is Talbot Street and you’re on Talbot Street. And I think this is fitting.”
From there, advised Graves, “As with any public art piece, the project was vetted through our public art committee of council and then ultimately to council and we ended up with what I think is quite a beautiful piece of work on the front of that building.”
Woermke estimates the life of the mural in its present location will probably be about 10 years with the likelihood of replacing it in an ongoing fashion.
It has a UV coating, explained Woermke, and being on a north-facing wall, it should hold up to the elements quite well.
“I think that they really wanted that work there. They contemplated other kinds of scenes. But I said, you know, this is Talbot Street and you’re on Talbot Street. And I think this is fitting.”
Most appropriate, indeed.
HOSPITAL VISITORS TAKE NOTE
As of 8 p.m., last night (March 13) St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital has made adjustments to its visiting hours in response to the COVD-19 pandemic.
Visiting hours now begin at 10 a.m. and run to 8 p.m. daily. Visitors to the emergency department will be limited to one family member.
If you are visiting someone who has been admitted to the hospital, only two family members are allowed and they are to remain in the room of the individual they are visiting.
Take note that children 16 years of age and younger will not be allowed to visit.
However, for compassionate reasons, the hospital will accommodate the needs of families and patients, including those in critical care, palliative care and children. This will be done on a case‐by‐case basis.
Hospital administration stresses these changes are temporary and remain in effect until further notice.
As is always the case, if you plan to visit someone at the hospital, self‐screen to ensure you are healthy, have no respiratory symptoms and do not have a fever.
HOME SHOW ON HOLD
This year’s edition of the St. Thomas Spring Home Show has fallen victim to the coronavirus. Scheduled for the weekend of March 27-29, organizers have taken the step to postpone it and reschedule the event for a later date.
“Being a local presence and knowing that the Home Show is such an important
economic driver to the home and renovation industry, we have decided postponing was in the best interest of our members and exhibitors rather than cancelling at this time,” advises show manager Chris Cox.
Cox adds, “We will update our vendors next week with an alternative date and further direction regarding the St. Thomas Home Show 2020.”
THE READER’S WRITE
Last week’s item on membership in The Sunshine Club for 2019 prompted this response from Carrie Hedderson Smith.
“Maybe we could take some of Wendell’s undeserved raise which puts him at $197,642/year for not wanting to deal with taxpayers and do some good with it.
“I vote hospice.
“With all the unresolved issues and back door deals here in town I don’t feel he is very effective in his role. Maybe his role could be outlined for the taxpayer- you know transparency and all. He’s been in for a long time- too long. What are his accomplishments for that kind of pay?
“A 3k raise this year when most of us are barely staying in our homes killing ourselves to find jobs that will last, seems well, quite a bit out of touch for a city with so many problems.
“My two cents and I’m not interested in hearing it’s a comparable wage with other municipalities. Are they scum central?
“What has happened to this town? If he’s in charge and doing his job, it should be much, much better than this.
“Just my two cents.”
On our look into the city grants process, Jaime Burns had this observation.
“Was that Preston’s fancy way of saying, ‘we’re going to start interrogating organizations about their spending habits and tell them how we think they should be spending and if they don’t like it too bad?'”
Questions and comments may be emailed to City Scope
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