Neither of the combatants in the City of St. Thomas vs. Sutherland Lofts hearing was the star of the show Wednesday at the Elgin County Courthouse.
That honour went to his honour, Justice Peter Hockin , who had no qualms about speaking his mind, sharing his thoughts and guiding lawyers Valerie M’Garry and John Sanders down the path of least resistance.
Or as he stressed, “I don’t want to spin our wheels on collateral issues.”
Now remember, this is the same Justice Hockin who, in 2008, overturned a ruling from Justice David Little that gave the city the go-ahead to demolish the four-storey structure.
In reference to the boxes of evidence accumulated since then, Hockin cut to the chase. “Is it unsafe right now . . . there were recommendations of what could have been done but never was done.”
“You close down a school in a small town and kids suddenly spend hours on the bus going to other communities.” That’s an observation from David Thompson, chairman of the Near North District School Board in Ontario, gleaned from a St. Thomas & District Chamber of Commerce news release calling for a moratorium on school closures.
At the May 6 Ontario Chamber of Commerce convention in Sarnia, member chambers adopted a resolution “supporting a moratorium on closures and for organizations including the Chamber to be engaged by the school boards to consult economic impact.”
In St. Thomas and Elgin, the Thames Valley District School board will decided later this month on a proposal to close schools in Sparta, New Sarum, South Dorchester and Springfield. Sparta would be the first to close and then be re-purposed as a second French Immersion school in Elgin.
Attracting interested and involved participants was not an issue Monday evening (March 27) at an information night to introduce a partnership between the STEAM Centre, housed in the former Wellington Public School, and the Thames Valley District School Board. The pilot project will see participating Grade 10 students from the city’s three TVDSB high schools work collaboratively for one semester before returning to their home schools.
One of the biggest proponents of the STEAM Centre is board member Andrew Gunn, trustee of the Dorothy Palmer Estate which contributed $638,000 to help launch the alternative education project.
Gunn sees the St. Thomas centre as a template for what can be undertaken in communities across the province threatened with losing their schools.
Question for you. What’s a common factor in the demolition of a building and demolition of end-of-life vehicles? Well, in St. Thomas that would be Valerie M’Garry.
For nearly a decade, the London lawyer has steered her client – Sutherland Press building owner David McGee – through the court system, deflecting at every turn attempts by the city to demolish the structure built in 1913.
Twice this year, the hearings have stalled due to M’Garry’s ill health, but at the most recent appearance Ontario Superior Court Justice Peter Hockin left no doubt as to what lies ahead in the Sutherland Saga: the matter will be addressed May 24 with or without M’Garry.
“Mr. McGee should take that into account,” cautioned Hockin.
The city this week locked in place two more pieces of the Talbot Street West redevelopment puzzle with announcement of the purchase of two properties from London developer Shmuel Farhi.
The acquisitions are the Mickleborough Building at 423 Talbot Street – the home of Ontario Works since 2000 – and a parcel of land on the south side of Talbot St., between William and Queen streets, and stretching south to Centre Street.
While a conditional offer was announced last April the delay, according to city manager Wendell Graves, revolved around environmental issues.
“We have done due diligence over and above so we know exactly what we are facing,” stressed Graves. “In our approved city budget this year we have funds allocated there to begin some cleanup. Because we are looking to use pieces of that site for residential, under the Ministry of the Environment regs, that is the highest order of cleanup that will be required.”
As if playing home to this country’s first elevated park wasn’t high enough honour, St. Thomas could be one starting point for an ambitious trail project – an undertaking pinned to the pending merger of St. Thomas Energy and Entegrus, based out of Chatham-Kent.
Earlier this week Serge Lavoie, president of On Track St. Thomas, released details of what the St. Thomas Elevated Park will look like when the gate at the eastern approach swings open Aug. 27.
When the organization acquired the former Michigan Central Railroad trestle – built in 1929 at a cost of $689,000 – the purchase included 4 km of railway right-of-way at the western end of the structure running to Lyle Road in Southwold.
Faced with the inevitable, St. Thomas Energy this week voluntarily halted the practice of winter disconnects for unpaid bills. The decision was made a day before the province pulled the plug on such action.
“The OEB (Ontario Energy Board) has strict rules about disconnects and time periods and we have to offer pay arrangements and we’ve always followed the OEB guidelines on that,” advised Rob Kent, acting CEO at St. Thomas Energy.
“We are voluntarily agreeing to the moratorium on disconnects.”
The obvious question is what leverage does St. Thomas Energy now have collecting overdue bills during cold weather months?
“You do lose leverage during the winter months when you can’t disconnect, but what no one has really looked at is what happens when that period ends and the customer has a substantial bill? How do you help them make arrangements and get caught up without getting disconnected in the spring and summer months? That is something we’re going to have to address.”