Doors open on Alma College future

By Ian McCallum
St. Thomas Times-Journal, Monday October 04, 2004

Retirement community plans draw praise

“We’re doing what we set out to do, save the building.”
Bathed in brilliant sunlight, where two hours previously wind and rain had buffeted the grounds, Alma College provided a glorious backdrop Saturday as Brian Squires of Alma Heritage Estates welcomed several dozen invited guests to an official yearbook signing ceremony. The occasion was to “commemorate the start of a new year for Alma Heritage Estates and Alma College.”

It also gave Squires the opportunity to offer a preview of his concept for an “exclusive independent retirement community” to be housed on the grounds of the former school for girls. According to Squires’ plans, Alma Heritage Estates will consist of 66 retirement suites in the main building, which dates back to 1877, with the potential for another 300 units in two apartment complexes to be built on the south end of the property.

Work won’t begin in the main building until March, but a sales presentation office will open in the former music building by the end of October, said Squires. “We’ll have some early-bird sales for a few months and we’ll have our official launch come spring. The tours that we ran this summer showed there is a lot of interest,” said Squires, adding, “We’re doing what we set out to do, save the building.”

“This is something the whole community is looking forward to seeing come to fruition,” praised Mayor Jeff Kohler. “This is something that is going to benefit St. Thomas for a long time.”

Ald. Heather Jackson-Chapman, city council’s representative on the Municipal Heritage Committee (MHC), said her group was relieved to “see something done before it is too late.” “We see progress with all the work being done on the property. I know personally I’m receiving a lot of calls about it. There are a lot of excited people in the community. And the building is going to stand. And that’s what the driving force behind the municipal heritage committee was. To see the building intact and see something done before it is too late.”

In April of this year the MHC, under former chairman Diana Player, had petitioned city council to proceed with a stop-work order at Alma College citing violations of the Ontario Heritage Act. Ald. Terry Shackelton noted once the politicians stepped out of the picture, “the project has moved ahead fairly quickly.” Said Shackelton, “It’s time to take politics out of the process. And we noticed that with this project. Once the politicians weren’t involved, the project has moved ahead fairly quickly. And this is great for Alma, and it’s great for St. Thomas. It’s going to be beautiful and it’s almost right in the core.”

Barb McCallum, past-president of the Alma College Alumnae Association, said she looks forward to the day when her association can meet once again at the Moore Street address. “We would love to be back on the grounds because it is such a beautiful setting. It would be very memorable for the alumnae to be back on the grounds and see it back to life again.”

“I am personally delighted that they are going forward,” added Lara Leitch, a vice-principal at Alma in the 1980s. “And they are going to reinstate the building to its former glory, because it used to be glorious. We had people coming here from all over the world.”

A photo of Brain Squires and Mayor Jeff Kohler appeared with the article, with the following caption:

St. Thomas Mayor Jeff Kohler, left, signs the official yearbook Saturday at Alma College following a welcoming address from Brian Squires of Alma Heritage Estates. The occasion allowed Squires to preview his concept for a retirement community on the grounds of the former school for girls. (T-J photo)