Pleading for Alma
Demolition permit denied

By Ian McCallum, St. Thomas Times-Journal Staff
Wednesday February 08, 2006

The future of Alma College now lies in the hands of St. Thomas council.

Cheered on by a standing-room-only crowd Tuesday at city hall, Municipal Heritage Committee chairman Angus Walton announced his group will recommend council not approve a demolition permit requested by Alma Heritage Estates, owners of the former school for girls since 1998.

Calling it "one of the most satisfying moments of my life," Walton and the MHC also recommended the main building be protected under section 35.3 of the Ontario Heritage Act in addition to the city's property standards act. Additionally, the committee is urging the city to seek further financial support from the provincial Ministry of Heritage.

More than a dozen speakers, including owners George and Jill Zubick of London, Ont., made presentations prior to the committee setting forth its three recommendations. "We have a significant amount invested in Alma," George Zubick noted, "and we have come to the end of our resources."

"We appreciate the love shown Alma College," Jill Zubick added, "and we love it, too, but we could not secure the finances." In October, 2004, Alma Heritage Estates unveiled plans to construct 66 retirement suites in the main building on the 4.4 hectare (10.9 acre) property. The following spring the project was shelved and the site put on the sales block. The Zubicks are seeking permission to demolish the main building and the chapel while the music building "can be used," George Zubick suggested.

"It's not our wish to see the present owners go bankrupt," assured Alma College International Alumnae Association president Lisa Johnson. "Is there nothing the city, county or the province can do?"

Dawn Doty, representing Concerned Citizens for the Preservation of Alma College said the historic landmark has suffered "demolition by neglect" since the Zubicks purchased the property eight years ago. "The property is a potential gold mine," stressed Doty, "and we start right here and right now with no demolition permit."

Possible uses for the main building, Doty suggested, include a tourist information centre, trade school, geared-to-income seniors housing and a conference centre. "We are only limited by our own imagination," said Doty. "Think of Alma as a business. The name is known and it would sell itself."

In presenting his committee's recommendations, Walton thanked those in attendance for their passionate presentations and suggestions. "Your input is highly important. This meeting has had a far-reaching effect."

Council is expected to address the MHC recommendations when it meets again Monday.