Council May Stall Alma Demolition

By: Hank Daniszewski - Free Press Reporter

Alma College has been given a reprieve as St. Thomas city council is poised to deny a demolition permit for the historic building.

On Monday night, council will get a recommendation from the municipal heritage committee to deny the demolition permit to Alma Heritage Estates, headed by Brian Squires of London.

"I know council is adamant about not taking the building down," said Mayor Peter Ostojic, who said council will likely vote Monday on the issue.

Last week, city council and the heritage committee received a report from Santarelli Engineering Services of London indicating the former private girls' school was still structurally sound after 122 years and could be restored.

Squires said he would welcome the denial of his demolition application.

"This only confirms what I have been saying all along - that the building is historically significant, structurally sound and worth saving."

Squires said he only filed the demolition application to clear the air about the state of the building and focus attention on its future.

"The demolition permit was a way to bring this issue to light. It needs to be confirmed this is a salvageable building."

The private high school that drew students from all over the world closed in 1988. The building, considered a treasure of Victorian architecture, has slowly deteriorated over the years because of vandalism and weather damage.

Squires, who has owned the property since 1998, has proposed a partnership with the city to construct a seniors' village on the site.

He wants to convert Alma College's main building into a seniors' residence. The Valleyview Seniors home would move to a building that would be constructed on the Alma site.

But St. Thomas council recently chose city-owned land on Burwell Road as the new site for Valleyview and has balked at any financial partnership with Squires.

Squires said the best hope for the building is for city council to reconsider a partnership with him on the Valleyview project.

"We could get going on Alma tomorrow …. the community at large wants the seniors to be in the core of the city."

But Squires said he would consider a partnership with the city to redevelop Alma without the Valleyview component. He is also open to offers to sell the Alma property.

Ostojic said council has made its intentions clear and it is time for Squires to take action on the property.

"Whatever happens next is in his court. …. I have always said something has to be started on the facility fairly soon," said Ostojic.

The engineering report on the soundness of the building might encourage more potential buyers to come forward, he said.