Alma College Square: ‘Something interesting and unique’ appears to be more ho-hum and institutional

city_scope_logo-cmykWe’ve all seen ads like these featuring some product with the disclaimer, ‘May not be exactly as pictured’ or ‘Object appears larger for display purposes’.
Seems that may be the case with Phase 1 of the three-tower residential development rising up on the former Alma College property.
The renderings of the apartment buildings appear different than the original site plans approved by the city.
That was the focus of a lengthy Q&A during the Feb. 12 meeting of the site plan control committee held online with city staff and developer Michael Loewith and his team.
The bone of contention was whether the approved permit drawings for the Phase 1 building are substantially in conformance with the site plan agreement.
Absolutely not, argued Alma College watchdog Dawn Doty – who lives right across the street – and architect Ed van der Maarel, also a neighbour of the grandly named Alma College Square.
The 156-unit Phase 1 is scheduled for completion in 2022.
Doty has a front-row seat on what is transpiring on the Moore Street property and she noted during the meeting, “Looking at the original site plan drawings, what I’m seeing outside my window is tremendously different than what I first saw. Would you agree with that?”

To which Loewith responded, “I think it is going to look different until we’re done . . . obviously these renderings are just supposed to be the structure, the landscaping and so forth around it is just backdrop.”
At play here is the use of precast prestressed concrete which offers “durability, fire resistance, inherent sound control, speed and ease of construction, competitive initial cost and minimal maintenance,” according to the Canadian Precast Prestressed Concrete Institute.
Alma College Square renderingThe use of precast concrete led to the need to substantially reduce the size of the windows in each of the apartment units, giving the building a somewhat institutionalized look.
Striking right to the heart of the matter Doty wondered, “If the precast concrete created structural limitations for window sizes and openings, why was this not realized by the planner and the developer during the planning process?
“And why did the developer submit site plans for a building they could not build?”
Loewith had to admit, “Both great questions.”
He continued, “I always like to use precast. It’s a very efficient and new technique. It’s a local company. Most of the buildings being built in southwestern Ontario are using this material.
“We didn’t know until the engineers started looking at it and figuring out how it could be constructed. We don’t get that feedback by experience in the past with the site plans. It’s really about the siting of the buildings. How the landscaping, the traffic, the services and how all that is going to work together. The mapping of the buildings. That’s really the focus of the site plans.

“I think our community was promised a development that we would be proud of, a beautiful development. A luxurious development.”

“And, once things are approved, that’s when you really jump in and start spending significantly more money trying to build out.
“You’ve got the footprint, now how do you bring units into it, the HVAC, the electrical and all that kind of stuff. So, it’s a bit of a process.
“It’s a learning process. We didn’t have all of the information at the time.”
Not exactly the answer Doty was looking for and not necessarily reassuring, either.
Not willing to let that slip by, she observed, “I was under the impression what we saw was what we were going to get. And, I’m very disappointed that there are not the floor-to-ceiling windows.
“It looks very institutional and, frankly, not what I expected from any of the images at the meetings I attended. Those images were wonderful and exciting.
“I think our community was promised a development that we would be proud of, a beautiful development. A luxurious development.”

“I am in total disagreement that this is allowed to continue. We had site plan approval that was agreed to. We have a site plan that was agreed to and here we are with a building in the City of St. Thomas, three towers that look absolutely ridiculous.”

van der Maarel picked up on the look of the structure based on the renderings and the reduced window sizes.
“It does look very institutional. Second of all, type in Toronto condominiums into any website and you’ll see the amount of glazing that you’re allowed.
“This idea of building efficiency is just related to the efficiency and the amount of glass.”
He continued, “We have completed buildings that have 25 per cent glass across the front. I totally disagree with the comments that have come out (about the need to reduce window sizing).”
“I think the original drawings should be adhered to because that was agreed.
“I’m not looking for something from my property to be an institutional-looking building. I think this is ridiculous that the construction has come this far and they know very well that council is not going to retract back to the original building elevations.
“I am in total disagreement that this is allowed to continue. We had site plan approval that was agreed to. We have a site plan that was agreed to and here we are with a building in the City of St. Thomas, three towers that look absolutely ridiculous.
“Why can’t we have the glazing and the (larger) balconies we were promised on Day 1.

“This is all a budget item and is nothing to do with what the neighbourhood wanted and approved, to begin with.”

What Loewith’s team is asking for is a change to the agreed-upon site plan. Something they say is “not an unusual thing to do.”
Changes the Sierra Group says are “not significant,” and as to the balcony sizes, “they have not changed.”
The Sierra Group is the consultant for Loewith’s firm, Patriot Properties.
The balconies are inset in nature and were never wrap-around in design according to the Sierra Group.
The consensus from the design group was no one in the city wants to see a glass-towered, Toronto condominium look on the Alma property.
van der Maarel noted, “As property owners adjacent to this, we were concerned we were getting a building similar to Confederation (apartments on Confederation Drive in St. Thomas).
“And eventually this will turn into a Confederation. There is nothing pretty about those apartments.
“I’m disgusted the development is going to turn into one of these Confederation-area types of developments in 20 years.
“This site plan amendment should have been done six months ago before the precast construction.
“This is all a budget item and is nothing to do with what the neighbourhood wanted and approved, to begin with.”
Turn the pages back exactly three years ago tomorrow when Loewith told council of the day his development is about “building something that is beautiful.”
He said that day, his concept for the 11-acre property is “to create something interesting and unique . . . something to last for a long time.”
What we have at this juncture are final renderings that don’t appear beautiful in the eyes of some beholders.

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Yes, the case numbers have been on a steady downward trend over the past few weeks with just one new case reported in the Southwestern Public Health region yesterday (Friday).
And, there’s more positive news emanating from a COVID-19 update session held Wednesday for area media.
A note of caution off the top, however.
SW Public Health jpgAlthough the case numbers are heading in the right direction, the region’s medical officer of health, Dr. Joyce Lock, stresses the need to continue with testing.
The numbers are down in our region, she advised.
“We have seen a steady decline since the beginning of January. We went from completing over 6,000 tests the first week of January to around 4,000 tests last week.”
Dr. Lock noted the need to continue with testing even if you only exhibit one mild symptom. It’s the only way the health unit can determine the status of the virus in the community.
The good news comes in the form of more vaccines on the way.
“Vaccine supply is arriving at the Western Fair Agriplex this week and next. First-dose vaccinations are available for long-term care and retirement home staff and essential caregivers.”
However, only healthcare workers identified on lists supplied by long-term care and retirement homes in the area will be eligible for vaccination at the Agriplex.
As for the general community, the priority group to start will be those 80 years of age and older with details to be released shortly on clinic dates and locations.
“They will be vaccinated first as we know the most serious impacts of COVID are on our older adults. They are at risk for needing hospitalization and are at risk of dying.”
This phase of the vaccination program is expected to begin in mid-March.


A thought-provoking letter was presented to city council this past Tuesday (Feb. 16) from Matt McTaggart who, along with his wife, own Steelhead Food Co. in St. Thomas.
He’s an avid fisherman and has given talks on sustainability practices in the fish and seafood industry.
He is launching a youth stewardship and sustainability program to spread awareness regarding natural resources and how to preserve them for future use.
Lake Margaret signHe is seeking the city’s go-ahead to use Lake Margaret as a model for this program.
Initially, he would like to educate young people in all aspects of conservation including catch and release fishing practices and ice safety in the winter.
Other areas to be covered would include fish stocking programs, fundraising to support these programs and mapping of the water bodies in the community concerning accessibility, boating and fishing spots.
These maps would be available to the public.
Matt indicates he is presently working with the Kettle Creek Conservation Authority and the Ministry of Natural Resources on building this program.
He concludes, “I would love to see our community come together to make Lake Margaret a shining example of sustainability and education.
“The resources that this little lake has to offer can be enjoyed responsibly by the members of our community and will no doubt create meaningful memories for years to come.”
Although reaction from council was tepid at best, it was unanimously agreed upon to refer the letter to the parks, recreation and property management department.
Coun. Steve Peters was in favour of moving the letter along to that department “to be part of their comprehensive report so that we can deal with all issues regarding Lake Margaret once and for all.”
He is referring to the report requested by council on whether canoes, kayaks and fishing should be permitted at Lake Margaret.
Added Mayor Joe Preston, “I would like to remind us in our strategic plan there’s a whole initiative around youth. And, this one should also be remembered when we start to look through that lens also.”

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Plenty in the news of late about harm reduction although it’s a safe bet many people don’t recognize exactly what that is.
A big proponent of harm reduction at city hall is Joe Preston.
Remember the anxious debate last summer about re-opening the much-loved Horton Market?
Preston was firm in advising it can’t be done unless face coverings are worn, social distancing is maintained and people come to shop and not socialize.
The Nameless imageIn this pandemic world we live in, that’s all harm reduction. Ensuring the coronavirus doesn’t run rampant throughout the community.
That’s harm reduction.
The police are also active proponents of harm reduction. Seatbelt use and the promotion of safe driving to minimize the chances of serious injury or even death.
That’s harm reduction.
The fire department is certainly a proponent of harm reduction. Installing smoke alarms, CO detectors and now carrying a fire extinguisher in your vehicle.
Again, to lessen the risk of injury or death in a fire situation.
That’s harm reduction.
We’re encouraged to wear helmets when cycling, skiing and boarding to help prevent head injuries. And those playing hockey are mandated to wear helmets for the same reason.
That’s harm reduction.
The health unit advocates on many levels for harm reduction. Look no further than their safe sex programs and promotion of healthy lifestyles.
That’s harm reduction.
The health unit also operates its sharps exchange program to minimize HIV and hepatitis infection, both of which are a burden on the already overtaxed healthcare system.
That’s harm reduction.
And all of those examples are for the betterment of the community.
Surely Mayor Preston would say that’s good. Harm reduction ensures a better quality of life in St. Thomas.
So why isn’t Mayor Preston onboard with the harm reduction efforts of a proactive outreach organization like The NamelessST?
A community-based, peer-led harm reduction group.
Through their volunteer efforts, they are keeping members of this community safe night after night with no support from city hall.
And, that extends far beyond sharps to the distribution of food, clothing and other necessities.
Oh and comfort, understanding and hope. With no stigma attached.
That’s harm reduction in the greatest sense.
Why are they not at the table when the city and the health unit hold discussions on the safe distribution and disposal of sharps and other drug-related issues?
We’ve noted above that’s harm reduction.
Or are the efforts of The Nameless some negative form of harm reduction?
If there can be such a thing.
They are part of the solution, Mayor Preston, not part of the problem.
Moreso with the heightened awareness of homelessness – prevalent in the downtown core – and moving forward with a centrally-located emergency shelter.
You’ve asked for input from businesses and organizations in the core area. You’ve got a valuable resource literally across the street from your office.
Are we going to let philosophical differences cloud the harm reduction waters?

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From March 22-26, The Nameless is holding an online auction on their Facebook page. They are looking for gift cards, local gift baskets, candles, services, home decor and art. Donations for the fundraising auction will be accepted through March 17. For e-transfers, The More info is available on Facebook and Instagram at The NamelessST.

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And a reminder, I can be heard weekday afternoons as news anchor and reporter on 94.1 myFM in St. Thomas. As always, your comments and input are appreciated.


2 thoughts on “Alma College Square: ‘Something interesting and unique’ appears to be more ho-hum and institutional

  1. Harming yourself is easy, living is hard!


  2. The Alma College Square development has morphed from an apartment complex containing a restored amphitheater to a gated condominium project. Initially, I was in favour of the development based on information presented at various public meetings and at the site plan presentation. I am now concerned that the developers are continuing to make changes as they stumble along. Is financing the reason for these plan alterations? I no longer am in favour of this project.


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