VoxPop letter to the London Free Press
By Michael Manchester
The article, Alma College posed to fade into the past (Feb 22), about the uncertain future of this historic St. Thomas institution, has prompted me to consider more creative ideas for preserving the building. Renovation series such as Real Renos and Dream House air on HGTV. They follow a project from inception to completion and provide compelling programming as we witness the struggles to bring vision to a conclusion.
Although these shows have focused on private homes, this format seems well-uited to the renovation of Alma College considering its history, importance to both the local and international community and architectural significance.
Producers for this kind of series might be convinced of the value of providing funding for the restoration of such a striking building in exchange for documenting the work. Although this would probably be more money than normally is spent on these series, such cost might be offset by arranging a co-production with international networks, talking advantage of the worldwide reputation of the school. Interviews could be conducted with former students in other countries to provide regional context for foreign producers.
Assuming the building was restored to its original appearance, this would provide an opportunity for a second series that could include historically accurate furnishings and training to staff the building as if it was operated in the late 1800's. A past program, Pioneer Quest, challenged two families to live under the conditions of the Canadian West in the 1870s.
Considering Alma's role as a school, perhaps the local school board could be convinced to offer students the opportunity to spend a semester going to school each day as if they were studying a century ago and have their experiences documented for television.
Another, long-term option, would be to operate the restored building as a theme bed and breakfast, perhaps including retirement suites or other housing in a separate wing.
Admittedly, such a proposal does not offer the quick solution needed to ensure Alma's survival. However, the fire that recently destroyed another St. Thomas landmark, the Ponsford House, makes the preservation of Alma College all the more imperative.
I am sympathetic to owner Brian Squires' situation and respect his efforts to find a contemporary use for the building. We need to look beyond our community to find creative solutions when other opportunities have failed to represent themselves.
The proposed television series would not only bring national and potentially international attention to Squires, his company, the city of St. Thomas and the firms involved in the restoration, it would highlight our commitment to a preserving a building that played a role on the world stage for decades and is important for more than just the property it was built on.
VoxPop provides readers an opportunity to comment on topical subjects.
Michael Manchester is a resident of Alymer.