Isabelle Nethercott knows a thing or two about the city’s transit system. She probably knows more about the pitfalls and shortcomings of the bus operation than anyone at city hall. And that includes mayor and council. For years, Isabelle has relied on the creaky buses to get her to and from work. And, to put it mildly, she is not impressed with the much-ballyhooed roll-out of Railway City Transit. Most days she is the only rider on the bus, making social distancing effortless. She forwarded a copy to this corner of a very lengthy letter addressed to Justin Lawrence, the city’s director of engineering. It is as comprehensive as many of the big-buck consulting reports that cross the desk of city hall staff. The director and council would be wise to heed and act upon many of her observations. In short, any city that penalizes users by downgrading the service to a one-hour headway on almost all of its routes has no right to call itself progressive.
It’s time to get serious and address the escalating challenges looming over the city’s downtown core, advises St. Thomas Police Chief Chris Herridge. After a couple of phone calls this week and an exchange of emails, Herridge took the time to present a case for taking a leadership role in confronting those challenges. “We are seeing a trend where drug and property crime has been increasing,” notes Herridge. “If we do not get a handle on the issues we are currently facing, the big city issues that quickly arrived here three to four years ago are going to turn into the serious issues occurring in larger centres across our country. “As I have mentioned many times in the past, St. Thomas is not unique to the social, health and crime problems being experienced, but we can be leaders in addressing these issues if we focus on where the challenges are and, right now, the challenges are predominantly in and around our downtown.” Herridge starts with a resource primer that should be pinned within easy reach for downtown merchants and their staff.
Evident by the questions raised by a couple of councillors at Monday’s (March 15) meeting, the Alma College Square development still generates concern even while the skeleton of Phase 1 reaches skyward. While council did approve amendments to the plans for the three-tower residential development, unanswered questions remain. Issues revolve around traffic flow, the final colours of the structures, why the site plans seemed to be in a constant state of flux, Community Improvement Plan funding and, most puzzling of all, why was a Wellington street access to the former Alma College property nixed? Developer Michael Loewith of Patriot Properties, at times, added to the confusion, in particular as to what shades and hues the exterior of the buildings will wear. Coun. Jeff Kohler perhaps put it best when he observed, “I’m certainly not going to accept buying a red car when I ordered a blue one.” A reference initially alluded to by Coun. Steve Peters.
It has a long and storied history. Of course, the St. Thomas Elgin Memorial Centre was long the home of the St. Thomas Stars and before that, the Pests and the Barons. How many of you remember the short-lived Wildcats of the Colonial Hockey League who called Memorial Arena home for three years before morphing into the London Wildcats and then the Dayton Ice Bandits? The old barn is seeped in hockey history but its defining moment may very well be written this spring and summer. Over the past couple of weeks, the venerable facility built in 1953 has been transformed into an impressive vaccination hub where tens of thousands of area residents – certainly far more than the 2,600 or so hockey fanatics who could jam the stands and walking track for a game – will wend their way through the structure and emerge after a shot of insurance against the coronavirus. Tremendous gratitude is owed Cynthia St. John, Jaime Fletcher and the rest of the hard-working staff at Southwestern Public Health and their community partners who have ironed out every last detail to open up the vaccination clinic Monday morning to get down to the business of corralling the coronavirus.
We’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?”
The space is available and waiting, staff are trained and ready to go and the service could be up and running six months after approval. The choke point in this essential service for St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital is provincial Ministry of Health approval. At Monday’s (Feb. 8) meeting, St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital president and CEO Robert Biron made a compelling presentation to council on the need to equip the facility with an MRI scanner. Biron referred to it as “A basic medical technology for any community hospital.” He added, “We are one of the few medium-sized hospitals in the province that does not provide the service.” Biron continued, “We are one of the few counties in the province that does not have access to the service.” Very curious indeed in that STEGH has been a designated stroke centre since 2016 but does not have a scanner that is required for treating stroke and is integral in the management of many colorectal and breast cancer cases. Biron went on to note, “an MRI scanner is essential in the diagnosis and management of orthopedic conditions.”
The 70 or so minutes discussing Southwestern Public Health’s sharps program this past Monday exceeded the length of the majority of council meetings in the past year.
And, when Mayor Preston wrapped up the discussion, nothing had been resolved as to why is it the city’s responsibility to undertake disposal of discarded sharps – hundreds of thousands of them each year – when it is the health unit that dispenses them.
And, that is not a misprint. In 2019, the health unit distributed about 438,000 of them throughout its coverage area with about a third of those being returned after use.
The health unit is proposing a collaborative partnership with the city whereby it would be responsible for disposing of the sharps at an estimated annual cost of $65,000 per year.
As Coun. Joan Rymal duly noted the city is already on the hook for about $100,000 annually for sharps disposal. The three or four large bins around the city need to be cleaned out several times a week because the numbers dropped off as opposed to the twice a month the health unit feels would suffice under the partnership.
My, how words can come back around to bite you. A couple of weeks ago, we wrote about Lake Margaret attracting skaters of all ages for an afternoon of gliding across the frozen water. A scene right out of a Tim Hortons’ tribute to life in Canada. Which led to queries from several readers as to summertime use of the lake for fishing and canoeing. As the signs lakeside warn and reiterated two weeks ago by Ross Tucker, Director of Parks, Recreation and Property Management, a big negatory to those warm-weather activities. The decision to prohibit fishing in Lake Margaret was a recommendation of the 2010 Lake Margaret Environmental Plan. It came up for discussion back in April of 2017 when Coun. Steve Wookey proclaimed, “In my world, there should be fishing and canoeing.” Continue reading →
As city residents transitioned from Christmas celebrations to life under a minimum 28-day province-wide shutdown, we chatted with Mayor Joe Preston on how this will impact the administration’s game plan for 2021.
Considering council and administration accomplished much in a year we would otherwise like to forget.
That includes a new transit system that will begin to take shape this month, the impressive number of building permits issued in 2020, construction projects underway like the residential development on the Alma College site, new industries like Element5 springing up, affordable housing projects and a new civic park project to be developed on the site of the former police headquarters.
Always upbeat, Preston began by pointing out city hall will remain open during this time while other municipalities have chosen to keep their administrative offices closed.