By: St. Thomas Times Journal
Letter to the Editor
December 18, 2002

It is YOUR right to be informed … Alma College vs. Burwell Road

On Monday, December 2nd, St Thomas city council decided not to reconsider the Alma College site for Valleyview Home for the aged. This decision seems to be based on a lack of desire to hear the public's opinion. Alma Heritage Corporation offered to lease what is know as "the apartment block" in area "B" for $1.00 annually. A new 3-story long-term care facility could be built in that location and would meet the Ministry of Health standards. The design and building would be provided at competitive leasing rates comparable to ownership costs that the city is presently considering. A perspective lender who completed the successful contract with the city of London for the new John Labatt Centre presented this partnership option to us. The shared services and costs would substantially save the City money in the long run.

This is an opportunity to save Alma College. It is an option available to us from a perspective lender. The agreement is made available to us only if the city partners with Alma Heritage Estates Corporation. The proposal is that if the city will back our leasing arrangements by placing the new Valleyview on our site, the funder would supply enough capital to complete both Valleyview and Alma. Unfortunately, the city council has neglected to consider our business plan and funding agreement. Councilors Marie Turvey and Jeff Kohler were at least open to try.

It is now up to the people of St. Thomas to make two very important decisions. The first is to let council know where they want to spend their golden years: on Burwell Road under the hydro lines or living in a desirable, centrally located active seniors community. Secondly, is to decide whether they want the city to stand behind Alma College to prevent this regal building from collapse. Many municipalities have successfully adopted this partnership option. City council commissioned consultants to adapt a Community Improvement Plan, which specifically states Alma is one of six priorities for action.

There were a number of considerations that went into our proposal to the city. It was made clear to Alma Heritage Estates during our development stages that because of the heritage controls on this site, it would be extremely difficult for us to sever the land. Therefore, the only viable option we have is to lease them land in area "B" as set out by the planning department. We also knew the city had to be protected should something happen to our company. This contingency is built into the negotiated lease agreement and the city could exercise its option and take control of area "B" and all its assets. The city would be responsible for Area "B" only, not the entire 10.87 acres.

The Vision:

The Alma Village is being developed on the 10.87-acre site of the historic Alma College in St. Thomas, Ontario.

Alma College will be developed as a unique mature adult community with accommodations varied to suit all levels of retirement lifestyle. Units will be spacious and comfortable and the services offered will meet the needs of the aging population. The grounds surround Alma will be designed to enhance their natural beauty.

The historic 50,000-squire foot Alma/McLaughlin Building will become personal care apartments and home to 66 residents. The romance of the old historic building combined with the new interior finishes and updated electrical and mechanical systems will support the residents in comfort and style.

The Chapel, which is an integral part of the Alma/McLaughlin Building, will be fully restored to its once glorious state. The beautiful stained glass windows and high ceilings will add to its character and charm. The churches in the immediate area have inquired about using the chapel for special events.

The Amphitheatre will be rejuvenated in its spectacular natural setting as a unique outdoor gathering place for residents, guests and visitors to Alma Village. Both the chapel and amphitheatre will be designated non-profit. A charitable status will be put on them with it being recognized as Alma Centre. Funds will be used for ongoing maintenance and operation. Renovations will be proportionate to donations.

The Dobson Building (old music building) will now be the new professional building. Here it is planned that doctors, lawyers, dentists as well as a possible pharmacy will be established.

The Pavilion will now be that special event-gathering place for weddings, family and community functions as well as a village and community restaurant. Being adjacent to the old railway will offer that final community connection.

Finally the last project will be the Former Sifton Building. It is proposed to build a new structure but depending on market demand it is also possible it should be renovated into a 60-unit retirement facility.

With all of the plans in place, not only do I feel compelled to continue to fight for Alma and the replacement location for Valleyview. I believe it is and will be the best location for a retirement community. This significant decision will last for the next 100 years.

Where Do You Want To Be?

Please attend council on January 6 or 13, 2003 at 7:00 pm and show your support. Write, call and e-mail your local council, newspapers, friends and family and encourage them to take a stand for your community and to make an effort to save Alma from destruction. I believe that nothing is impossible if we stand together and put people first. I am standing with you.

Brian Squires