Alma owner responds

Article from St. Thomas Times-Journal, 20 January 2003
By Ian McCallum, Times-Journal Staff

"I just want the mayor to stand behind his word."

Brian Squires, of Alma Heritage Estates, insists his motive for applying for a demolition permit to tear down Alma College was prompted by comments made to him two weeks ago by Mayor Peter Ostojic. Speaking to the Times-Journal Sunday afternoon from his London, Ont., home, Squires spoke of a Jan. 7 "summit" between himself and Ostojic regarding a location for the replacement Valleyview Home for the Aged.

"He was the one who told me he would only consider putting Valleyview on that site if Alma was not there. I'm not making this up. He told me he doesn't think council or anybody else would hold a gun to my head if I took a demolition permit and only then would he reconsider it."

On Dec. 2 of last year, in a closed session of council, members voted 7-1 to locate the 136-bed facility on city-owned land on Burwell Road. The next day Ostojic explained council members were hesitant to commit to the Alma site because of the financial partnership between the city and Alma Heritage Estates proposed by Squires.

"I don't think members of council wanted to put the corporation into a financial risk," Ostojic noted. "We're not in the risk business. I do believe of all the sites (under consideration for the Valleyview facility) the Alma College site was probably the best." And keeping that fact in mind, Squires says Ostojic was willing to re-visit the issue if the main building, which Alma Heritage Estates has owned since 1998, was demolished.

"If it was our family's decision to take out the permit to get rid of the building, then he (Ostojic) would reconsider taking that back to council. He told me that and based on what he told me is why I went ahead and did what I did." Squires applied Jan. 15 for the permit to demolish both the main building of the former school for girls, which dates back to 1877, and the chapel. Council will consider the application when it meets tonight.

Ostojic, meantime, is denying he made any commitment to Squires. "I would never consider taking it back to council," Ostojic told the T-J last Wednesday. "I think that would be sending a poor message to council." The only poor message being sent is the one initiated by the mayor, countered Squires. "Unless I'm absolutely deaf, when I have the mayor saying to me our site is the best and he personally would put it (Valleyview) there, what message would that be sending to me?"

And Squires takes offence at a comment made last week by the mayor who charged ,"I honestly think that when Mr. Squires bought this building his intention was to take it down."

"There's enough people in St. Thomas who know me and know my family that we did not go down there with the intention of tearing that building down and that was the most hurtful comment I've heard from that council." Squires confirmed he will be in the public gallery tonight when council considers his application. "I told them I'd be back. Any of my associates who know me, and my vision for Alma, will join me. They can tell council that it was never my intention to demolish Alma or the chapel and we did everything we could to try to save it."