Councillors sent a clear message to Mayor Joe Preston and city manager Wendell Graves this past Monday.
Push forward with the construction of an 88-space downtown childcare centre in an expedient fashion.
Preston responded as he has in the past, by deflecting.
In his report to council, Graves recommended retendering the project this fall with construction to be completed by the end of next year.
The reason for the delay in going out to tender, advised Graves, is an increase in costs in the neighbourhood of $300,000 when the project was tendered last month.
Putting the cost estimate in the $4.3 million range whereas just over $4 million has been budgeted for the badly needed childcare facility to be located on St. Catharine Street.
“Childcare spaces in our community are desperately needed,” reminded Coun. Lori Baldwin-Sands, “and I believe once we start coming out of COVID a little more rapidly, the people who are going to be requiring the service of daycare is going to be growing exponentially.”
Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek points to a “a gap in the system.”
He is referring to the situation of unlicensed group homes like Walnut Manor, shut down this week by Southwestern Public Health until all health and safety violations are remediated.
“I think we’ve acknowledged that across the board,” continued Yurek in a conversation Thursday (July 8).”
We asked him about Jeff Burch, NDP MPP for Niagara Centre who, in December of 2019, introduced a private member’s bill to regulate supportive living homes like Walnut Manor and others owned and operated by SupportiveLiving.ca.
The Protecting Vulnerable Persons in Supportive Living Accommodation Bill provides a framework for operators and sets minimum standards that must be met so that tenants are no longer at risk.
It took a question from Coun. Jim Herbert at Monday’s (June 7) council meeting to get a sense of how people are handling newfound freedom at Lake Margaret.
Coun. Herbert pointed out, “people don’t seem to be following the bylaws, you go by and people are fishing. How many tickets have been given out? Hopefully, it is settling down.”
To which Jeff Bray, the city’s new director of parks, recreation and property management responded, “I can’t say how many tickets have been issued. I know bylaw enforcement has been out there and I can check with them.
“I know the Ministry of Natural Resources has been very active there and they have been issuing lots of tickets.
Bray continued, “On Sunday, I know that they gave a bit of an education piece to 10 to 15 fishers out there. They were 12 to 16 years of age.
Is it possible opening up Lake Margaret to additional uses could become as divisive an issue as the twin-pad arena controversy more than 15 years ago?
It certainly divided council when put to a vote and based on comments we’ve received – some documented further on here – it has splintered opinion with city residents.
As noted at a previous meeting of council, fishing in Lake Margaret is regulated by the Ministry of Natural Resources and the city has posted on its website the lake is closed to fishing from now until the fourth Saturday in June in accordance with the Ontario bass fishing season.
The city notes, “Once the lake is open again for fishing we ask that you carry a valid Ontario fishing license and adhere to the posted signs that direct you to where fishing can occur at the northwest and southwest end of the lake.
“No fishing is to occur behind the homes on the north and south shore of Lake Margaret.”
Furthermore, “Boat Launch signage will also be posted on the east end of the lake at Jim Waite Park, where you can park on Lake Margaret Trail. Parking is also available at Pinafore Park near the Celebration Pavilion where directional signage will lead you to the northwest boat launch.”
Fishing and canoeing are now permitted activities at Lake Margaret after Monday’s (May 10) 6-3 vote in support of a couple of motions brought forward by Coun. Gary Clarke.
The turn of events caught city staff off guard as no policies are in place, let alone any signage or launch areas for watercraft.
In speaking with city clerk Maria Konefal this week, her initial advice is “stay tuned.”
She added, “We’ll have a plan that will be coming forward so people are aware how and where . . .”
On Friday the city sent out an advisory of additional items for Monday’s (May 17) agenda including “an overview of measures that will be implemented to provide for non-motorized boating and fishing on Lake Margaret.”
Coun. Clarke calls Lake Margaret, “a positive recreational place for the city to add to Waterworks and Pinafore. It has some features those two don’t have, in terms of accessibility.”
Unveiled this past Monday (May 3) by St. Thomas developer Doug Tarry and Lindsay Rice of the YWCA St. Thomas-Elgin, Project Tiny Hope offers just that. Big on hope packaged up in quality, energy-efficient, supportive affordable housing for St. Thomas.
The undertaking to take shape at 21 Kains Street, the former home of Elgin Handles, will consist of 20 tiny homes and 20 units in a three-storey apartment building.
A dream come true for Tarry, who enthused you can’t beat the location.
“You’re five minutes from everything. You’ve got banking, grocery stores and you’re a minute from the trail system. We’re really pumped about this project.”
Doug Tarry Limited contributed $280,000 for cleanup of the brownfield site which is expected to begin later this year. He is partnering with the YWCA and Sanctuary Homes of Elgin-St. Thomas.
The latter donated $200,000 to purchase the lot.
There are one or two members of council advocating for fishing and non-motorized boats to be permitted on Lake Margaret. Several of their peers have expressed an interest in whether this is even possible from an environmental point of view.
But, is council as a whole willing to authorize an expenditure of $50,000 to find out if such recreational activities are feasible?
That’s the question Monday night when members delve into a report from Ross Tucker and Adrienne Jefferson from the city’s parks, recreation and property management department.
For a sum of $49,245 plus HST, Ecosystem Recovery Inc. of Kitchener will undertake an environmental assessment of the Lake Margaret area.
The firm offers a diverse range of engineering services to help effectively assess, manage, and restore sensitive water resources infrastructure, according to their website.
Over the past 20 years, two master plans have been created for Lake Margaret, both were conservation-based and both recommended no activity on the lake including swimming, fishing, or recreational watercraft.
A total of 88 critically needed childcare spaces in the city have just evaporated into thin air. Along with the spaces, $2.6 million in provincial funding – in hand – now has to be returned as the city has been unable to not only complete the project, it hasn’t even put a shovel in the ground.
And ultimately, you have to double back to the comment from city developer Peter Ostojic, why is the city involved in building affordable housing units themselves?
Peter and his brother Joe have completed several affordable housing developments in St. Thomas and Aylmer.
“If the joint goal of our community is to provide as much affordable housing for people (as possible), it is important that the private sector be the primary delivery agent,” advised Peter more than a year ago.”
So, what have childcare spaces to do with affordable housing?
Let’s join the dots.
Phase 2 of the social services hub at 230 Talbot Street was to include additional affordable housing plus a childcare facility. Back in July of 2019, city manager Wendell Graves admitted the cost of construction per residential unit was projected to be “fairly high” at $290,515 per unit.
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.