OMB Okays Demolition of Alma College
Asks Tower to be Saved

By Jackie Gill
St. Thomas Times Journal
January 23, 2008

The Ontario Municipal Board has okayed demolition of historic Alma College but says the building’s iconic tower should be saved. The board issued the report permitting the demolition on Friday after hearing a joint proposal from the City of St. Thomas and the Zubick family of London that aimed to keep only the college’s northwest entranceway intact.

But the recommendation isn’t enough, said Ald. Heather Jackson-Chapman, city heritage chairman. “I don’t really see that as happening,” she said. “I’d like to see more of the front facade saved. All we’re going to get is the entranceway.”

The OMB’s proposed order, an issue in city council last night, calls for the demolition of all buildings on the property except the entrance. Until then it will be held up in a metal frame before being attached to a new, replica facade.

The demolition permit must be filed within 14 days, meaning city council will have to repeal the 1994 heritage designation bylaw on the site. Both parties have two months to decide whether to follow through on the recommendation to keep or, if all else fails, replicate the tower.

But there’s no set date for new construction, said Jackson-Chapman. “That’s what I really don’t like. There’s no dates, no deadlines,” she said. “The property could sit empty for a long time.” The OMB heard the proposal in October and released its orders and recommendations on the issue four months later. “It’s just disappointing that it took so long,” said Jackson-Chapman. “I wasn’t happy with the original agreement. I’m not much happier now.”

The Moore Street college was once an all-girls’ school. Only the entranceway, which dates back to 1877, will remain a continuing heritage resource. The property has since fallen into disrepair, and upgrades to the structure could push it further towards its demise, said Thomas Rylett, a structural engineer who investigated the site, in the October hearing. Still, Jackson-Chapman worries that the decision is another threat to heritage sites in the city, considering continuing controversy over the Elgin County Courthouse.

“It’s the end of Alma College,” she said. “It’s another sad day for history in St. Thomas.” There are other heritage sites scattered across the city, she said. “Just not to the scale that the courthouse and Alma College are.” As for any new uses of the site, Jackson-Chapman said selection will be limited because it will have to resemble the old Alma College.