Current owners are weighing offers to sell historic Alma College

By Ian McCallum, Times-Journal Staff
Wednesday August 23, 2006

Saved from the wrecker’s ball, but what lies ahead for Alma College?

The owners of the former school for girls met Tuesday to determine their options after city council turned thumbs down on their permit application to demolish the remaining buildings on the Moore Street property. Alma Heritage Estates, a London, Ont., family consortium consisting of George and Jill Zubick, Brian and Kathy Squires and Ken and Doris England, now must weigh the merits of an offer to purchase from a group interested in establishing a small, liberal arts university on the 10-acre site.

That was one item on yesterday’s agenda, said Jill Zubick, who confirmed the possibility of an appeal of council’s decision to the Ontario Municipal Board was also a topic of discussion. “I’ve got a lot of mixed feelings right now,” she told the Times-Journal yesterday. “We really want to do what’s best too. And that gets hidden in the details.”

She noted a tentative purchase offer from a group of St. Thomas community leaders and academics from across Canada fell far short of what the owners felt is fair market value. “We’re going to lose money either way,” she conceded, “it’s going to happen. It would just be nice to pay the bills.”

Zubick expressed concerns the group, which made a presentation to council Monday, does not have the financial resources to complete the restoration of the remaining buildings at Alma. “It’s going to cost a lot of money to fix it up. And I don’t think they do (have financing).”

She also indicated more than one offer is on the table. “We have another person who has stepped up to the plate,” Zubick told the T-J. “It’s just tentative but that would be good too. And they seem to have more vision.” She would not identify the party but did acknowledge their proposal entailed preservation of the main four-storey building that dates back to 1877.

A spokesman for the St. Thomas group meantime says he’s elated with council’s decision and “we are hopeful we will make some headway” with the present owners. “We were elated with the courage that each member of council showed,” Andrew Gunn told the T-J yesterday. “I am very happy with the way things went.” For the time being it’s a waiting game, said Gunn. “We would be able to work quickly in putting together the necessary funds to purchase the property but it is simply a waiting game for us. We hope we can reach an agreement that is satisfactory for the current owners and our group.”

As envisioned, the new liberal arts facility would have an enrolment of 400 students when fully operational and generate approximately $10 million in revenue annually. The curriculum has already been prepared, added Gunn. “It would be a school at which the faculty members emphasize teaching over their own research. The course of studies would involve the great books of Western civilization from Plato to Darwin.

“We have a need for a vibrant downtown core,” stressed Gunn, “and this would be quite a unique opportunity for St. Thomas.”