Looking beyond demolition

St. Thomas Times-Journal
Tuesday February 14, 2006

In reality, Municipal Heritage Committee chairman Angus Walton had no option last week but to recommend city council deny an application to tear down the main building and chapel on the Alma College property.

Granted, it may appear the demolition by neglect will continue unabated, however Walton took two significant steps to ensure owners Alma Heritage Estates and the city mutually act to ensure the former school for girls is no longer the sole domain of vandals and the elements.

The MHC has recommended the property be protected under section 35.3 of the Ontario Heritage Act whereby council would prescribe minimum standards for the maintenance of the historically designated building. In addition Walton and his committee are pressing the city to seek further financial assistance from the provincial Ministry of Heritage.

In other words, council can no longer shirk its responsibility to assist in the preservation of what Alma activist Dawn Doty labeled, “St. Thomas history at its finest.”

Walton was correct when he told the large gathering on hand for the public meeting their outpouring of support backed by the three MHC recommendations will have a “far-reaching effect.”

No one knows heritage buildings better than London, Ont., developer Shmuel Farhi and he stresses it is time the province stopped threatening to punish owners of designated properties by way of heritage legislation. Farhi argues the province should offer heritage landlords financial incentives -- either in the form of tax breaks, loans or special grants -- to encourage the retrofitting and restoration of culturally significant properties.

“If this goes out in limbo again,” warned Jill Zubick of Alma Heritage Estates, “nothing is gained. We need council’s support.” And that is why the two additional MHC recommendations demand the immediate attention of council.

Walton and his committee are to be applauded for not limiting their scope to the mere issuance of a demolition permit.