Application to demolish Alma

Saturday January 14, 2006
By Ian McCallum, Times-Journal Staff

After standing derelict for years and the subject of numerous failed revitalization schemes, Alma College again faces the spectre of the wrecker's ball. The city has received a request on behalf of Alma Heritage Estates to demolish the four-storey main building that dates back to 1877.

In a letter sent to city clerk Wendell Graves two weeks ago, London lawyer Brian Worrad notes Alma Heritage Estates is seeking to tear down the former school for girls to prepare for a new, unspecified development.

"There exists a disconnect between the development of the subject site and the maintenance of a heritage easement across the main building facade," writes Worrad. It is necessary to seek a demolition permit, he continued, "to make this property function for the benefit of the citizens of St. Thomas requires that the main building be taken down and the site prepared for development from the ground up."

In September, 2004, Brian Squires unveiled his vision of an "exclusive independent retirement community" on the grounds of Alma College. Five months later that dream evaporated.

"We tried to do Alma and it's not happening," Jill Zubick, of Alma Heritage Estates, told the Times-Journal at the time. "So now we're selling it."

The family has owned the Moore Street property since 1998 and nearly three years ago approached St. Thomas council with a proposal to partner with the city to locate a new Valleyview Home for the Aged on the site. Worrad notes should the city be interested in maintaining and developing the main facade, Alma Heritage Estates is prepared to transfer ownership to the municipality "on mutually agreeable terms." In his report to council, Graves recommends the matter be referred to the city's Municipal Heritage Committee for comment by Feb. 8.

As a designated property under the Ontario Heritage Act, council must either consent to the issuance of a demolition permit, which could include conditions, or refuse the application. Council will address the demolition permit application Monday with the public portion of the meeting beginning at 7 p.m. in the council chamber at city hall.