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kingmills_2

Proposed Fanshawe College building at Kingsmills.

08/16/2014 12:25pm UPDATE: I’ve added responses received from councillors to the bottom of this post. 

I’ve been following with excitement the Fanshawe College proposal to renovate the historic Kingsmills building downtown into new classroom space for 1,600 students – as a Londoner and alumnus I’m glad to see the rapid expansion of the school. I watched the Fanshawe presentation to the London Advisory Committee on Heritage (LACH) with great interest (in the gallery with Molly, as Sarah is a member of the committee). The committee seemed equally impressed, and felt that the proposal, though extensively renovating and updating the building, took prudent steps to maintain the heritage of the site. A downtown heritage building that is no longer useful is at risk, and this proposal balanced preservation and occupation.

It is then with great disappointment that I watched Council vote down the proposed project and request for $10M investment by the city, despite the $66M being paid by Fanshawe to make this happen. I was especially surprised that one of the reasons cited by Joe Swan was concern about preserving the heritage of the building – why have advisory committees if their recommendations are ignored? Did he think LACH didn’t dig deep enough, or did he simply not read the report? Fanshawe’s pitch made it very clear that they would be undertaking hassle and expense to not just preserve but to restore the historic Dundas Street facade.

A lot of the issue has been chalked up to an election year – voters are scrutinizing how councillors spend their tax dollars, and with a city that elected Joe “0%” Fontana four years ago, many candidates are probably concerned with being perceived as big spenders. In particular, with Ward 3 Councillor Swan taking a run at the big seat, he is trying to channel a similar “friend of the taxpayer” persona.

However, this is foolhardy on two fronts.

First, this makes it seem that the money would have to be levied through higher taxes, when there is already money set aside for exactly this kind of project. The city has funds for investment and the economic prosperity of the city – surely investing in one of city’s largest institutions to purchase and reinvest in one of the historic downtown buildings is exactly the purpose of those funds? The only other project on the horizon that could be a contender is the hotly debated Performing Arts Centre, and there are assurances that should such a project go forward, there are ample funds for both projects.

Second, Swan of all councillors should be supporting this project, with the main Fanshawe College campus in his ward. Beyond the massive investment in the downtown core, it gives Fanshawe much-needing breathing room as their attendance continues to climb as they expand their course offerings, and they stretch the limits of the main property. Already they have expanded to a massive new building at Oxford & Third as well as the first phase of downtown development, across from the now-empty Kingsmills building. Investing in Fanshawe brings more students to the city and higher demand for jobs including faculty, and gives Fanshawe space to bring 1,600 new students to Swan’s ward. This is exactly the kind of innovative and progressive vision we need for our city, the kind of vision Swan is evidently lacking.

The last vote failed with a tie vote, with Henderson not there – he has indicated had he been there, he would have also voted against the proposal. Those that voted against it were Councillors Bud Polhill, Bill Armstrong, Joe Swan, Stephen Orser, Paul Van Meerbergen, Denise Brown and Sandy White.

Today, the London Downtown Business Association has called an emergency meeting to address what can be done, but there is only a faint hope – to reignite the debate at Council it would take 2/3 to vote for a renewed discussion, meaning several councillors would have to change their vote.

It may seem a slim chance, but if you think this project is what London needs, please take a few minutes to write to Council to express your views. This is the letter I’ve sent to Council, you’re welcome to use it as a template if it would help frame your thoughts on this important issue.

To London City Council,

I’m writing today to ask you to reopen the debate on the proposal by Fanshawe College for $10M towards their investment in the now-vacant Kingmills building downtown, and to support the proposal. Accepting this proposal would show excellent leadership and investment in our city by this Council. Fanshawe is putting forward $66M into this project, noting that they could much more easily build a new building on cheaper property, but they are choosing to move downtown and invest heavily in one of the historic storefronts, and teaching their culinary students while opening a new restaurant downtown. As well, LACH and senior city staff including Martin Hayward and John Fleming support this plan – as Councillor Branscombe has noted, whether to support this project seems to be a “no-brainer”. This project will pay massive dividends for our city, and be one of the shining moments of this Council session, should it go through.

In particular, I ask Councillors Armstrong and Swan to reconsider their position on this proposal, as this plan will greatly impact their wards. Fanshawe is already stretched to the limits of their existing property even as they are continuing to expand their attendance and course offerings, if this project were to go forward 1,600 students would be admitted to the downtown campus, opening space for 1,600 new students at the main campus. London desperately needs new, innovative minds, every effort should be made to bring more students to the city, and retain them after graduating. Investment downtown creates opportunities all over London.

With this proposal, Fanshawe College is showing vision, innovation and leadership. Today I ask that you stand with them, and do the same.

Thank you for your time and consideration, please contact me if you’d like to discuss this issue further.

Sincerely,

Brian Gibson

Ward 2

 

UPDATE: Below are the responses I’ve received from Councillors. 

I received this response from Councillor Matt Brown 3:05pm August 15:

Thank you for taking the time to write this Brian. Best regards, Matt
Matt Brown
City Councillor, Ward 7

I received this response from Dawn MacLean on behalf of Councillor Russell Monteith 3:43pm August 15:

Good afternoon Brian,

On behalf of Councillor Russell Monteith, thank you for your email. Your comments and concerns have been noted and will be taken into consideration.

I received this response from Councillor Joe Swan 5:31pm August 15:

Dear  Brian

Thank you for writing. I know you care about doing the right thing for London,

Here is some excerpts from my letter to the downtown business association in a genuine effort to keep the project moving forward:

I indicated to the Business association  that it is my belief that all city council members  seek a solution that is good for the entire community and is within the existing City of London budget allocation.

The city has committed $20 million to ensure the College locates in the downtown. The College has indicated up to 20 other properties in the downtown that may be available to make their campus a reality without the need for an additional $10 million of local taxpayer support. Those buildings may be a more economical solution, with the same or better economic impact.

I indicated this particular property (Kingsmills)  was from a construction and facility cost point of view too expensive at $660 per square foot basis, (Fanshawe’s own consultant said the price was “exorbitant” school costs are usually about $350 per sq ft.). Also the location of the project meant the College would exceed the approved budget allocation of the City. The proposal will also demolish an important heritage property. The project does not have Provincial government financial support, yet it is a Provincial responsibility to fund Colleges. As Chair of the City Investment (IEPC) committee I have been made aware of at  least two other private sector owners that have indicated they have viable alternatives that do not require additional city funds. I presume they have not contacted Fanshawe or the downtown association yet as the current plan appears to be an intractable position for the benefit of one property owner.

I met with the downtown business association in good faith to suggest how we all might be able to move forward with a plan for Fanshawe downtown. I believe the downtown business association has the mandate and the capacity to take a professional business minded approach to help overcome difficult issues in the interests of all stakeholders.

I laid out to the association what I believe is a positive process that would move the project forward. I respectfully suggested I and others would welcome an LDBIA task force to look at all options. The LDBIA task force mandate would engage Fanshawe, the City and the Province and the private sector in a problem solving exercise that would achieve the result we all seek which is a vibrant downtown that welcomes education institutions locating in the downtown at an affordable price.

I have been a big supporter of the downtown. The results are clear. I chaired the downtown committee that was recognized internationally as the best in the business. Under my leadership the city committed millions for residential development, public infrastructure, and major destination venues such as the Budweiser Gardens, Covent Garden market and the new library. Much more city investment is on the way with Kilmer, transit, greening the Forks of the Thames and the Dundas flex street to name a few.

It is my view that the opportunity to build a positive and affordable plan for Fanshawe in the Downtown  remains. The city has allocated $20 million dollars to make the Fanshawe downtown campus project happen.

I have done difficult and challenging projects many times. I have done it before and can do it again. The deal with Fanshawe can be done with determined and skilled leadership that gets results.  

I remain confident the Fanshawe campus will be a reality in the downtown. We have the skills and talent we need in London to take a positive leadership role and get the results we all want.  

The College and the business association owe it to taxpayers to look at other viable properties and by doing so taxpayers will get the best value and highest rate of impact in the downtown.   

Regards

Joe

This was my response to Councillor Swan at 10:30pm August 18:

Hi Joe, 

Thanks for sharing your view about the proposal. Having spent the weekend reading about and considering the proposal and speaking to other councillors, I am still convinced that this proposal would be ideal for Fanshawe, the downtown and the entire city. Since you wrote, the LDBA has pledged $1M from their membership towards the proposal, signalling the downtown business community’s support for this specific project. As well, Councillor Denise Brown in speaking to her constituents has indicated that she would be willing to support a $9M loan to Fanshawe instead of a direct investment – is this something you could also support? I think it would at least be a very positive beginning to have partners in the proposal back to the table. 

Also, I noticed that the e-mail I received from Councillor White was very similar to the closing lines of your letter, without citing the source. When I asked her about it she told me that you had “shared his information and gave us permission to use what we found helpful”. Was this information shared with all of Council or just certain members? 

Thanks for your time, 

Brian

I received this response from Councillor Joe Swan 7:16am August 20:

I am glad to see that the dialogue is still open

I support Fanshawe downtown and am confident the project will move forward, I do not see the need for the City to add another $10 million dollars and I believe the Province has to step up and help fund the school. That is their responsibility.

Further I do not support local taxpayers providing an annual operating subsidy of $150,000 a year to the College every year especially when we have so many local responsibilities to be funded.

Joe

I received this response from Councillor Sandy White 8:21am August 16:

Brian,

Thank you for writing.  I know you care about doing the right thing for London.

 It is my view that the opportunity to build a positive and affordable plan for Fanshawe in the Downtown  remains. The city has allocated $20 million dollars to make the Fanshawe downtown campus project happen.

Council has done difficult and challenging projects many times. We have done it before and can do it again. The deal with Fanshawe can be done with determined and skilled leadership that gets results.  

I remain confident the Fanshawe campus will be a reality in the downtown. We have the skills and talent we need in London to take a positive leadership role and get the results we all want.  

The College and the business association owe it to taxpayers to look at other viable properties and by doing so taxpayers will get the best value and highest rate of impact in the downtown.   

Regards

Sandy

This was my response to Councillor White at 9:47am August 16:

Hi Sandy, thanks for your time and consideration. 

I am glad that you want to see the plan for Fanshawe to expand their campus downtown go forward. I sat in on the presentation to LACH for the Kingmills building and found it a win-win for the college, downtown and a valued heritage site, but understand the concerns about cost and the money requested of Council. 

With the news yesterday that the business association has worked hard to put together $1M over 10 years to help pay for this particular proposal, does it change your views on it at all? I think they’re making a clear statement and commitment to bring Fanshawe specifically to the historic Kingmills building. 

Thanks for your time, all the best.

This was Councillor White’s response at 9:52am August 16:

Brian, the point is best value for dollar and heritage remains a concern. I believe Fanshawe wants to make this happen and they will work hard to find a better deal. Sandy

Noticing that her first e-mail was almost the exact same as the closing line of Councillor Swan’s, I sent this forwarding Swan’s e-mail 5:51pm August 16:

Hi Sandy, I wanted to bring to your attention this e-mail I received yesterday from Councillor Swan, and the similarity in the closing lines to your e-mail to me. Was your response taken from this letter to the downtown business association? If so, you should cite the source. Just wanted to check. 

Thanks, 

Brian 

This was Councillor White’s response with Councillor Swan cc’d at 10:56pm August 16:

Thank you, Brian. Councillor Swan (included here) actually shared his information and gave us permission to use what we found helpful. For me, one very important aspect is the heritage value of the building. It’s not the façade; as much as, the interior of the building. Regretfully the historical significance of this store site has been lost on most of Council and the media. It would be despicable to demo this building rather than preserving the historical value that is far greater than the 10 million. sw

This was my response to Councillor White at 11:00am August 17:

Hi Sandy, thanks for the clarification. Was this information shared with all of Council? 

I agree that the heritage value of the building is extremely important. However, the concerns about the interior will have to be addressed by anyone looking to purchase the Kingsmills property, not just Fanshawe College. From the LACH meeting it was noted that the building is not AODA compliant. To bring it up to code would have to include the installation of a new elevator (the existing Victorian one is not up to code), changing the street entrance including accessible doors and a smoother entryway, to name a few features. There are also structural/safety issues that will have to be addressed. All of these concerns make the site very difficult to work with, yet Fanshawe has taken great pains to address every concern and bring the building entirely up to code. Finally, Fanshawe in their proposal outline how they will save as much of the interior as possible including incorporating original materials into the design. I feel that it would be difficult to find an applicant more sensitive to the heritage of the site than Fanshawe, and should Fanshawe not purchase the property, it will be difficult to find another applicant willing to face the sizable challenges presented by the site. 

Sincerely, 

Brian

I received this response from Councillor Denise Brown 1:53pm August 16:

Thank you for your email Brian.  Although I do not represent you directly, I feel every decision such as this one affect the entire city.  I am sharing the information below with those who contact me, as I feel the press can be very misleading.  Once you have read this information, I would like to hear from you again.

1.  May 9, 2011 – council approved 20 Million dollars over 10 years for Fanshawe to come downtown with a result of 1000 students.   Today, there are 400 students downtown.  For the record, the Province only gave Fanshawe 6 Million and Fanshawe contributed 14 Million.  So, the municipality paid 1/2 of the total contribution. 

2.  Fanshawe publicly said that they would move forward with the 2nd campus, with or without additional municipal funds. 

3. Fanshawe requested that council give them another 10 Million dollars to bring it to a total of 30 Million which would bring additional 1000 students downtown.  Fanshawe and the press keep referring to 1600 students, but that includes the 600 students that are already part of the 20 Million dollars approved in 2009.  The new proposal would see the City now contributing a total of $30 Million dollars, the Province $25 Million Dollars and Fanshawe $27 Million.  Question:  If Fanshawe already had  an extra 13 Miilion dollars, why did they ask for $20 Million originally.  Why not $10 Miilion.  How much more does Fanshawe have?  

4.  The London Downtown Business Association has now agreed to contribute 1 Million Dollars to this project.  I don’t have the exact figures in front of me, but the request from this group for funding from the City submitted March 2014 was over 1 Million Dollars – from the taxpayers.  Question:  Where does the 1 Million Dollars they are contributing really come from?  Is it the merchants reaching in their own pockets or is it the 1 Million Dollars the city gave them for business improvements?

5.  It is to Fanshawe’s benefit to bring as many students in one location as possible. 

6.  Education is a provincial issue.  The province downloads on municipalities on a regular basis and we should be careful not to pay for expenses that clearly fall under the Provincial budget. 

I am speaking to constituents this weekend, and this is the top subject.  I appreciate you taking the time to contact me, I look forward to hearing back from you.
Sincerely,Denise Brown
Councillor – Ward 11

This was my response to Councillor Denise Brown at 7:30pm August 16:

Hi Denise, thank you for the information you have provided. I will try to address each of the points you raised. 

1. Fanshawe currently has 400 students at the new downtown campus, however the facility is still new, and will see expanded use over time. If a brand new facility is at capacity right away, then that facility was built to be too small. Fanshawe have likely left themselves room to grow, and as programs expand there over evenings, weekends, etc we will see more students using that facility.

2. Going ahead with a second campus does not indicate size. Fanshawe could go ahead with a reduced facility that does not meet it’s demand, or allow them to grow. 
 
3. Fanshawe’s ability to raise money is for this project shows their dedication. The additional money they found for this project likely means that something they originally wanted to do will have to wait (that money could have been originally earmarked for something like renovations to main campus, more residences or purchasing property to expand satellite campuses). It is also not prudent to spend everything you have.

4. From the article http://www.am980.ca/2014/08/15/25181/, “The $1 million is a donation from the members of Downtown London, an organization made up of Main Street London and the London Downtown Business Association.” So it seems the business members are contributing their own money towards the project. There may be a misunderstanding about the funding, in speaking to Janette MacDonald of LDBA she told me they don’t receive funding from the city, only approves their budget under the Municipal Act. 

5. I agree that it is to Fanshawe’s benefit to bring as many students in one location as possible. Between the facility that has just opened and the proposed building at Kingsmills, it would create a small campus atmosphere in the middle of downtown, including a new restaurant that showcases the skills and training of culinary students. It also brings many more students to the downtown core during the day, allowing them to experience and spend money at the many excellent businesses in the area. 

6. I agree that education is a provincial issue, and that we should be careful about shouldering any of the provinces’ financial burden. However, the province, through the college, is contributing millions into this proposal. As well, they could build elsewhere at less cost, but they are showing what I think is admirable vision by proposing to renovate a historic and significant London site. I am concerned that if Fanshawe does not purchase Kingsmills whether another buyer could be found for such a unique site before the building begins to show the signs of neglect that put so many of our vacant heritage buildings at risk. 

Please let me know if you’d like to discuss this further. All the best, 

Brian

I received this response from Councillor Denise Brown 11:59am August 17:

I have had the opportunity of speaking to constituents in my ward, and many do not agree with giving the money to Fanshawe.  Some suggested a loan as we already gave them $20 Million.

What is your stand on this suggestion?

Sincerely,Denise Brown
Councillor – Ward 11
This was my response to Councillor Denise Brown at 2:30pm August 17:
Hi Denise,

I think this is an interesting suggestion, especially if it could see this project move forward. Brantford has used a similar model, using a combination of direct funding and interest free loans to bring post-secondary education to their downtown. 

Would you support the city loaning the remaining $9M to Fanshawe? Would it still be $900,000/year for 10 years, with Fanshawe then beginning to pay it back in that time? With the money already available now and the long timeline (2.5 Council sessions from now) does it make sense to propose such a long-term loan? 

If you were to support it, do you think this proposal would change the minds of other councillors that have voted against the proposal? If this would bring all parties back to the table I think it would be a good idea, especially if it could clear up how the present funds have been/are going to be used. Hopefully an understanding could be made with Fanshawe. With the money the LDBA members are willing to give to the project, it shows that the downtown wants to move forward with this proposal. 

Sincerely, 

Brian

I received this response from Councillor Denise Brown 4:39pm August 17:

It is something I can support and it is something that I think other councillors may support.  It is worth a try. 

Sincerely,

Denise Brown
Councillor – Ward 11

I received this response from Mayor Joni Baechler 4:30pm August 16:

Thanks Brian. I appreciate you taking the time to email your comments. I will continue to support the project when deliberated on Tue. Aug. 26th.

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The public participation meeting concerning the Fleming Drive riot was held last night at the London Convention Centre, held by the Public Safety Committee. The media that were there estimate roughly 150 Londoners were present, from a wide range of interests – members of the Fanshawe College Student Union, neighbourhood committees in the Fanshawe and UWO neighbourhoods, as well as citizens concerned about the legality of the proposed by-law.

In all, 9 members of Council were present. The 5 members of the committee (Councillors D. Brown, Armstrong, Bryant, Hubert and Polhill) were present, as well as Councillors Branscombe, M. Brown, Henderson and Swan; Fanshawe College is in Councillor Joe Swan’s ward, it was on his suggestion the meeting was initiated.

The full agenda included items added by the public are available here. As well, articles on the event are available here, here, here and here.

The overarching theme that I collected from the meeting was a concern those responsible for the riot will be properly punished, asking how we ensure another event like this doesn’t occur, and concern that the proposed by-law as written might lead to abuse of police power and loss of civil liberties. To the last point, I was given a list of questions to try to address by another concerned citizen, Andrew Culver (@eh_c), as he was at the Civil Works Committee meeting at City Hall, to ensure that police wouldn’t overstep their powers and that citizens wouldn’t lose their civil rights because of this by-law.

Police Chief Duncan spoke to these latter concerns immediately, anticipating they would be a major reason for Londoners to attend the meeting. From the Free Press article:

“‘We need an opportunity to go into an area and quell things,” he said, noting the law would allow police to go onto private property. Only he and his top staff — and the city’s top bylaw officer — could declare a public nuisance and move onto private property.”

However, some members of the public, including Fanshawe Student Union (FSU) President Veronica Barahona spoke to voice concerns that the wording of the by-law is too vague, the reaction too immediate, and urged further discussion and research.

This concern was echoed by others, eventually by members of the Committee. Councillor Paul Hubert stated that he believes there needs to be more time to discuss the by-law, and questioned if the by-law as it stands could be challenged legally. Councillor Judy Bryant voiced similar concerns, saying that their legal advisors are excellent, but thinks there should be a peer review of the by-law by a lawyer that is an expert in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to ensure that they weren’t overstepping legal or Charter boundaries by enacting this by-law as it stands. As well, she suggested the by-law be circulated to the Canadian Civil Liberties Association so they have an opportunity to weigh in.

Many members of the community that came to the meeting spoke of how to tighten rules and hold students accountable, from stronger codes of conduct for the students of Fanshawe and Western, to stronger penalties to landlords that run houses “like a business” without respect or consideration for those that live with the consequences. When the Committee weighed in, Councillor Polhill floated the idea that the community, not the schools, should be allowed to determine the academic penalty (i.e. expulsion) of those responsible. Still wrapping my mind around that one, but it went over well with those in attendance.

Finally, Philip McLeod shares citizen’s concerns expressed last night that this event wasn’t a very successful attempt at citizen engagement. He says:

Sooner or later – and sooner would be so much better – city council just has to get its collective heads around the concept of citizen engagement. It is so much, much more than simply holding a so-called ‘public participation meeting’, and the fact that after all this time we’re still explaining this to some of our elected officials is beyond annoying.

He notes (as others did last night when they came to the mic to speak) that the meeting was posted on the city’s website March 24, with the actual proposed nuisance by-law posted March 28, with written submissions for the agenda due to the City Clerk by Friday March 30 at 4:30pm. So if a member of the public wanted to make a submission for circulation, they would have to interpret the very complex by-law, form a written response and submit it, in 2 days.

It reminds me of the Vogon planning process in Douglas Adams’ “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series”. We humans are told our planet is about to be destroyed by the decree of the Hyperspace Planning Council to make way for an interstellar superhighway. The announcement goes as follows:

As you will no doubt be aware, the plans for development of the outlying regions of the Galaxy require the building of a hyperspatial express route through your star system, and regrettably your planet is one of those scheduled for demolition. The process will take slightly less than two of your Earth minutes. Thank you.

As you can imagine, uncomprehending terror ensues. In response:

There’s no point in acting all surprised about it. All the planning charts and demolition orders have been on display in your local planning department in Alpha Centauri for fifty of your Earth years, so you’ve had plenty of time to lodge any formal complaint and it’s far too late to start making a fuss about it now.

Has a slightly familiar ring to it, doesn’t it? Though the process to make a statement/complaint didn’t involve going to another planet, the time constraint of 2 days does make it very difficult to accommodate. To be fair, Council did have to walk a tightrope of having the public meet and discuss in a timely fashion while making sure the public is adequately given time for input. This process still leaves much to be desired, but I’m glad that there will be more opportunity to connect with the committee as they continue to mull this proposed by-law.

In the end, the by-law decision was deferred to the next time the Committee would meet. Originally it would have been June, but they will schedule a meeting in May to address this issue. Some members of the public seemed anxious to see it passed before the end of this school year, but with that only a couple weeks away, I’m glad to hear that they will continue to seek legal and public council. Chief Duncan noted that Project L.E.A.R.N. would continue in the campus neighbourhoods at the end of the school year as usual.

As a former resident in the Fanshawe College neighbourhood and a Fanshawe alumnus, I was frustrated that there wasn’t representation at the meeting by college staff. As noted earlier, FSU President Barahona spoke, but she could only do so as an advocate for Fanshawe students and not to the by-law itself as it is outside her jurisdiction. Fanshawe College president Dr. Howard Rundle submitted item c) to the added agenda saying the College supports the by-law and will continue to work with the community in shaping policy, but he nor anyone else from the college management spoke last night.

This concerned me, as I heard a great deal of prejudice against the college and those that attend it, and ignorance of how it operates and how it could possibly operate. I spoke last night to discuss my time as a Fanshawe student and to tell the community that I have graduated, work in the city, purchased a house in Ward 2 and intend to put down roots here, and echoed the statements of others that more should be done by all parties to connect the students with their community. A citizen speaking after me said that we can talk about solutions like community gardens (something I think would be a good way to get the students invested and involved in their neighbourhood), but dismissing it and other suggestions out of hand, said this situation is entirely Fanshawe’s fault and we need to see them take the blame and atone, to loud applause. Another citizen suggested Fanshawe purchase the entire Fleming neighbourhood, and that every student should be guaranteed a spot in residence, also to loud applause. These are assertions Dr. Rundle spoke to at the Fanshawe press meeting after St. Patrick’s Day, and I have since written about here. I feel that although he has already addressed them, without someone speaking on the college’s behalf last night, the conversation was unfortunately one-sided.

I continue to believe we need to find creative solutions to this unfortunate and pervasive problem. I am not convinced the by-law as written is the best way to go, though it will definitely be popular with the citizens that live in and close to student neighbourhoods. I am relieved by the statement by the police chief that the by-law would only be used with explicit clearance from him or his office, but some of the wording is still troublingly vague. However, if another riot were to happen without this or a similar by-law in place and the police assert it could have been ended less painfully by invoking the by-law, the public pressure to see it enacted immediately will only be that much louder.

I hope to continue to learn about this process and what more can be done to work towards solving the root causes of this issue, not just react when another riotous event breaks out. Please contact me if you want to hear more, and contact the committee and/or your local councillor to voice your opinion or ask for further clarification. We need public participation and engagement from all sides of every debate to have a thriving discussion, please add your voice.

Since the St. Patrick’s Day riot (on Fleming Drive, close to Fanshawe College) last Saturday night, a lot of questions have been asked, seemingly without answers. It’s been noted here that the area has had a long history of issues, raising the question of why does this seem to keep happening on Fleming Drive, and why hasn’t more been done to curb it?

There has also been plenty of blame going around.

Matt Gurney of the National Post wrote this article. In it he lays the blame on the feet of the city and police service for not having a better strategy and failing to quell the violence faster and more harshly. In his view, “The only thing that will deter more violence on Fleming Drive is a strong police response to future disorder — no more retreating before the mob — and successful prosecutions.”

am980 writer Nathan Smith posted this article. In it, he noted that these kinds of events aren’t happening in other areas of the city like the downtown or the UWO area, and therefore concludes “This is a Fanshawe problem”. When I first read this article, I agreed with him, because this has been a persistent issue in the Fanshawe area since before I began studying there in 2004, and one that the college apparently hasn’t been adequately addressing. Nathan’s argument is that it is the lack of on-campus residence space that forces first year students into the community, immature and unprepared to be unsupervised. However, as I thought more about the article and what I know about the college, I started to disagree.

First, Nathan Smith’s numbers about the college residence aren’t correct. He states that the college has only 1,000 residence spots for students, while in fact they have over 1,600. Half of those beds have been added in the last 2 years with the completion of R3 Merlin residence and the purchase of the Gatewalk townhouses, now know as Kestrel Residence (R4).

Nathan is under the impression that the college isn’t attempting to keep up with residence demand, despite the fact that they have doubled the size of their operation in just over 2 years. R1 was built in 1999, R2 in 2005, R3 in 2009, and R4 was acquired in 2011. It would not be far-fetched to imagine with this pattern of growth another two 400-bed residences in the next five years.

Nathan also states that “Fanshawe has among the fewest on-campus residence spaces of any post-secondary institution in Ontario”. Fanshawe is a college that was designed to serve a community, and has only in the past couple of decades drawn students from outside London who would require student housing. I took a look at the other 28 colleges in Ontario, and with 1,600 beds, Fanshawe actually has the highest amount of residence spaces available of the 28. If you do the math, almost 11% of Fanshawe College students live in Residence (15,000 full-time students in 1,600 beds). That’s almost double what most comparable colleges Fanshawe’s size can offer.

Finally, Nathan Smith states that “spaces that do exist are not offered up to first year students, as is often the case at other Colleges and Universities, and are instead made available on a first come first serve basis.” Also untrue. A quick phone call to the Fanshawe residence front desk told me that only 15% of residences spaces are given to upper year students, and 85% are held for first years.

The residence website does explain that they have switched from a random lottery system to a first-come-first-serve basis, but what this entails is that your acceptance into residence hinges on your acceptance into the college, so if you’re accepted into the college first, you are served first. This is common at other college residences, according to their websites. Many other colleges also do not reserve spaces for first years at all, putting them into competition with upper year students for the beds.

Thinking more about this issue, I now wonder what the college could have done differently. As President of Fanshawe Student Union (FSU) Veronica Barahona stated at the Fanshawe press conference Monday, they actively work to educate students in the Fleming Drive area about city by-laws concerning noise, alcohol etc., they work with LPS to strategize how best to anticipate and quell any partying issues that may arise, etc. In reality, the area is private residences outside of Fanshawe’s control. Has it been noted that Kestrel residence townhouses, despite being next to Fleming Drive, was extremely quiet?

This raises the question, why doesn’t the college purchase the Fleming area as well? Fanshawe president Dr. Rundle called it “prohibitively expensive”, and he has a point. If each one of those money-spinning rental houses is worth $250,000, we’re talking about a million dollars for every four houses,and that’s just the purchase price. Then there’s the cost to do something with them after they’ve been purchased. I’ve heard people ask if the college security can patrol Fleming, and the answer to that is simply no. Can the college enforce residence style rules in those private houses on Fleming? Also no. It’s private property.

Nathan Smith’s article does ask a question fundamental to this issue: why do riots like this happen only in this area? This is a question Fanshawe College as well as London needs to answer, especially as the college’s reputation has already been tarnished by this event.

Who can answer this question, and what can be done to make sure it doesn’t happen again?

Tuesday night, Council agreed to start some form of public debate on the issue, as discussed in this and this article. Fontana observed different groups are discussing the issue individually already, saying “There are a lot of investigations going on. The police have a task force, Fanshawe has certain things convened; David O’Brien (the city’s division manager for corporate security and emergency management) is co-ordinating a response,”. Council voted unanimously to have a public meeting arranged as quickly as possible, though details are being ironed out as to time, place and to ensure all appropriate organizations are involved in the meeting.

I think this is a positive start, and hope that this conversation will start initiatives that the community can continue. Council is concerned that this could spur a series of meetings that they would be chairing and overseeing, but I hope that in time, it would encourage other groups such as community associations to enter conversations with the college, FSU, LPS etc. to start their own initiatives without Council’s assistance.

When all is said and done, though, I hope the blame game stops. If you threw a beer bottle at a cop car, set fire to a vehicle, or torn up a street sign, there is no one more responsible in the world than you, and no one should be taking the blame for you. The nice weather did not make you drunk. Fanshawe College did not make you pick up that beer bottle. The police were not asking for it by being there. Your absentee landlord did not make you take aim at the cop car. Neither society nor your parents let the bottle fly.

You did, rioter, and a lot of people are taking a lot of undeserved heat, because of the decisions you made on St Patrick’s Day.

*This is an extension of this post discussing the riot that happened on Fleming Drive on St. Patrick’s Day.

In my last post I reflected on the riot that happened this weekend, and where we as a community and city go from here. The Mayor and Chief of Police held a press conference yesterday to address concerns about what has happened and suggest strategies for what can be done. Through it all, Fanshawe College has been very quiet about the event, until it was announced yesterday afternoon that Fanshawe College President Howard Rundle would be holding a press conference this morning at 10am.

Today Fanshawe President Rundle spoke to media to address the riot that happened close to the college campus. Articles on the conference are available here, here and here. Here are the main points I collected from the conference:

Rundle:

  • Extremely disappointed, maybe even angered, with those involved in the incident. Sorry it happened in community, and that it detracts from the reputation of Fanshawe, one of the finest schools in Canada.
  • 6 interim student suspensions due to charges, 2 more students suspended today.
  • Investigating under the student code of conduct, allows them to reach into community if safety and health of college community effected.
  • Students endangered themselves as well as others, health and safety of entire community an important consideration.
  • Not tolerated or excused, those people involved won’t continue to be students of Fanshawe.
  • Applaud information being presented, but request that citizens allow police to investigate using the information provided by community.
  • Project LEARN and FSU initiatives have been working.
  • Hundreds of Fanshawe students involved, but many other secondary and post-secondary students and citizens involved.
  • Student enclave attracts others. Rundle challenging some property owners on Fleming to take some of the blame.
  • Fanshawe has almost 17,000 full time students, proud of students and alumni. Today Fanshawe starts to take back the reputation of an exceptional college.

President of Fanshawe Student Union (FSU) Veronica Barahona:

  • Work hard to teach students responsibility for their actions.
  • Share Fleming area students with city by-laws. Many families still in neighbourhood, they also need to be considered.
  • Taking situation very seriously, courts should take appropriate action. Accept that this will reflect badly on students, will work to restore image and find solutions for ongoing situation on Fleming Drive.

Q&A (paraphrased).

Q: About the Open House happening next weekend – what is message to new students and their families?

A: This is and continues to be one of the finest colleges in Canada. Fleming is a student enclave, encourage students to live elsewhere including student residence controlled by campus.

Q: Project LEARN has been happening for years, have precautions been made?

A: Yes College did meet with LPS, they meet several times a year to discuss how to best plan. In hindsight, they’re going to ask how it is going to be addressed going forward, St. Patrick’s Day inordinately celebrated in London. There were a number of plans in place, but didn’t realize the extent of what would happen.

Q: Will students be expelled for criminal behavior? Is this new?

A: This isn’t an absolute first, student code of conduct allows for consideration of behavior in community. Has to be significant – throwing bricks, setting fires. Danger to the student community.

Q: Does FSU have problems with this approach?

A: They will move forward with College decision. Health and safety are major considerations.

Q: Has the college met with suspended students? Do we know how things got so out of hand?

A: Students will have a chance to meet with a college rep that is trained in situations like this, hasn’t happened yet but will soon.

Q: The college has a large residence, and bought townhouses across from the college. How does Fanshawe propose to deal with the situation on Fleming?

A: Would probably be expensive to rush in and buy houses, but can examine city by-laws, city may have tools that can discourage absentee landlords. Wouldn’t totally rule out possible residences in that area, real long term solution is breaking up the enclave. We all have tools available. Deeper social issues, tolerance of binge drinking, notion that St. Patrick’s should be a “big booze-up”, can’t individually deal with those, but we can all step back from this and look at it more deeply, are parents of children involved aware of how their children are acting? Deeper social issues exposed by this.

With this last question, the press conference concluded.

The question is, where do we go from here?

Many people are stating that criminal charges absolutely have to be laid against those responsible, but question is expulsion from Fanshawe is the answer, or will only set society as a whole back by limiting their futures and likely leading to further crime and social issues. I absolutely agree with the former though I struggle with the latter – I don’t envy the college their job. As Rundle and Barahona stated, they have people trained to deal with these kinds of situations and meet with the students that were arrested and suspended/expelled. The question is, how to strike the right balance – rehabilitating those involved and aiding them in moving forward, without adversely affecting the student and community population in and around Fanshawe. Those that graduate from a school go into the world as a representative – as Fanshawe president Howard Rundle is responsible both for the health and welfare of all students, and the reputation of the college.

I think the eventual solution to this will take time and careful consideration. What I take away from this press conference is the fact that the college accepts that they have a responsibility to their students and community, and that there was much more involved than simply good weather, alcohol and young people. My hope is that the city, college and community can connect and work towards real solutions to this persistent problem, and that this will be a wake-up call that much more than the current response is needed. it seems the solutions until now have been mostly reactive; though much more difficult, I hope that strategies can be built that aim to change the underlying causes. I believe President Rundle’s comments express a desire by the college to do that.

But what will the solutions looks like? Will that simply involve an even larger police presence/installation of cameras, purchase of the area by the college/residence, more involvement in area by community groups, more options of things to do for students in the area? All or none of these? Time will tell.

*I will continue to update this throughout the day as more information is available.

I’m usually proud to be a Fanshawe College graduate. Today is one of the few days I struggle to do that.

I know that Fanshawe is an excellent school that continues to grow and expand the courses it offers, and attracts students from London, areas nearby (I lived in St. Thomas before coming to London), further communities including large urban centres like the GTA as well as small northern communities, and all over the world. When I moved to London in 2004, I started a program being unveiled that year, the first degree program that school offered, Integrated Land Planning Technology.

But throughout the time I was at Fanshawe, the name Fleming Drive kept coming up. Spontaneous street parties, property damage, couches set on fire, beer bottles hurled at London Police when they came to intervene. Every year the area is one of those focused on by LPS’ “Project LEARN” (Liquor Enforcement and Reduction in Noise), which is a joint venture between LPS and Western/Fanshawe staff and students in the first month students return after the summer.

These kinds of events didn’t begin to prepare London for what happened last night on St. Patrick’s Day. It was a perfect storm – 22°C, beautiful sunny skies, and what amounts to a drinking holiday on a Saturday. London emergency services were prepared, and had stepped up their presence downtown and in the areas around Western and Fanshawe.

It wasn’t nearly enough, and the breadth of what happened on Fleming Drive is breathtaking. Some of the stories covering the event are here, here, here and here.  Young people (I hesitate to use the word “students” though many media members have done so, and undoubtedly at least some of those involved were) took to the street, set a CTV news van on fire (thankfully no one was hurt, and Sean Irvine actually continued to report from the scene despite what happened), and police were repeatedly repelled as they tried to intervene. Materials including pieces of fence,  a couch, TV etc. were piled on the blaze, and bottles, bricks, rocks etc. rained down on officers as they tried to intervene – several were wounded though not badly, if they hadn’t been wearing riot gear it’s believed it would have been much worse.

I followed this all last night through Twitter as people commented, shared the developing news stories and shared pictures and videos from the scene. The question I kept encountering was “Why”, and people seemed to struggle with the concept that it was seemingly for no reason at all. As others have observed, most countries set fires and aim to injure police because they are protesting for their democracy and freedom. Here, Londoners rioted for no reason at all.

I and many others are struggling in the aftermath to understand what makes London/the Fanshawe neighbourhood so much more susceptible to events like last night than other campus communities. Carolyn Marshall (@karolijn) wondered if the demographics are different, and offered these as some possible questions to explore:

  • how old are these kids?
  • how far away from home (their parents) do they live on average?
  • how much of their education are they paying for on average?
  • what is the socio-economic background of the average student?
  • what’s the graduation/attrition rate of the programs at the school?
  • what are the loan default rates?
    what’s the ratio of student to non-student residents around the school?
  • what on-campus entertainment/social programs are available & what is the rate of student participation?

I wonder if the Fanshawe community really is unique, but I can also only speculate, it would be excellent if this type of assessment can be done. I also wonder if these kinds of actions are attached to reputation. Students come and go, and yet this has been a chronic problem for Fleming Drive in the time I’ve been here, and likely long before. So, why does this happen year after year? I wonder if it isn’t because people that move into the area do so partly because of a social expectation that it’s the place to be for parties, plus permanent London citizens show up to Fleming when there’s likely to be a party/riot.

So what can be done about it?

Already this question is being hotly debated and will likely only continue to be so in the days ahead. Part of the question is what is being done already, something I am working to learn more about. Endevours like Project LEARN seem to be one piece, though entirely reactive. How do we tackle the root sources of the problem? Part of that is activities – it has been pointed out that there is very little to do in the area, and that the college is in an industrial/institutional area of the east end. From my perspective, Fanshawe has been expanding extremely rapidly, and is working hard but struggling to keep up.

The first residence was opened in 1999, and now has 1,200 on-campus units as well as 68 townhouse units for 400 more students, bringing their capacity to 1,600 – of note is the fact the third residence and the purchase of the townhouses happened in the past 2 years, meaning in that time they’ve doubled in capacity. Of particular note is the townhouses, known as Gatewalk. Like Fleming Drive, it had been a source of disturbance off campus which drew criticism of Fanshawe students. To deal with this (as well as the dwindling space on campus for future residences) the college purchased the property and made it an extension of the Fanshawe residences, so that the property is under their control and to guarantee only Fanshawe students were living in the complex and that they are under a code of conduct.

To me, these are the kinds of initiatives that need to happen. I hope that this latest and most horrific event will spark conversations amongst citizens as well as between groups like the College, Residence, City of London staff, LPS, the LTC, local community organizations and FSU. For whatever reason these events seem unique to the Fanshawe area, I hope we can all work to understand why that is, and tackle the root causes.

Harder is changing the culture itself. Many have commented that until whoever were rioting last night (and those that observed them doing it) learn to take personal responsibility for their actions, things won’t likely change.

This story continues to develop, and editorials are already being written. I hope that this terrible event can start meaningful conversation between our city and campus communities to find real solutions. Above all, the actions of the people involved should not reflect on London or its excellent post-secondary schools as a whole. They must also be understood, and we nee to start working now to make sure they don’t happen again.