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Sears Chair Lampert makes $4.4 billion bid to keep retailer alive

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(Reuters) – Sears Holdings Corp Chairman Eddie Lampert submitted a $4.4 billion takeover bid for the bankrupt U.S. retailer, representing its only chance of escaping liquidation and laying off tens of thousands of workers, a spokesman for the billionaire’s hedge fund said on Friday.

A Sears logo is seen inside a department store in Garden City, New York, U.S., May 23, 2016. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Lampert’s bid is backed in part by $1.3 billion in financing from three different financial institutions, the spokesman for his hedge fund, ESL Investments Inc, said. It would preserve about 425 stores that Sears has yet to close, and secure the jobs of up to 50,000 workers out of the 68,000 employed by the retailer. An affiliate of ESL, Transform Holdco LLC, submitted the bid, the spokesman said.

People familiar with the matter said the financing comes from Sears’ existing lenders Bank of America Corp and Citigroup Inc, as well Royal Bank of Canada, which was not previously a lender, which together agreed to provide a $950 million asset-based loan and a $350 million revolving credit line.

Some of Lampert’s bid relies on $1.8 billion of Sears debt that ESL already holds and plans to forgive to back the offer, the sources said. The bid also includes about $400 million in financing from non-bank lenders, the sources said.

The bid contemplates assuming protection agreements Sears has previously sold to reassure customers who have bought appliances, televisions, lawn tractors and other big-ticket items, the ESL spokesman said.

“Factoring for all considerations, we believe that our going concern bid provides the best path forward for the company, the best option to save tens of thousands of jobs and is superior for all of Sears’ stakeholders to the alternative of a complete liquidation,” the ESL spokesman said. “Much work remains and there is no assurance our proposal will be completed.”

Sears will now evaluate the bid to determine whether it is viable, and there remains a possibility the company could reject it, some of the sources said.

A Sears spokeswoman declined to comment. Bank representatives either had no immediate comment or did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A U.S. bankruptcy court judge must approve any sale of Sears. The judge will weigh the opinions of other stakeholders, including unsecured creditors who have argued they could recover more of their investment if the department store operator winds down.

Without the financing or another buyer, Sears faces the prospect of closing its doors for good and putting roughly 68,000 people out of work.

The 125-year-old retailer filed for bankruptcy on Oct. 15 and developed plans to restructure around the sale of 500 stores and businesses including Kenmore, DieHard and the company’s home services division. Only Lampert’s ESL offered to buy the entire company.

The only other bids Sears has received are from suitors interested in pieces of the company and liquidators prepared to run going-out-of-business sales at stores and shut down the retailer.

Sears dates back to the late 1880s. Its mail-order catalogs with merchandise ranging from toys, medicine and gramophones to automobiles, kit houses and tombstones made it the Amazon.com Inc of its time.

But the iconic retailer gradually lost its shine as consumers increasingly favored brick-and-mortar rivals such as Walmart Inc and Target Corp and e-commerce.

Lampert, who through ESL is Sears’ biggest shareholder and creditor, formed Sears Holdings in 2005 by acquiring Sears Roebuck in an $11 billion deal and combining it with discount chain Kmart, which he had also taken over.

Lampert had pledged to restore Sears to its glory days, when it owned the Sears Tower in Chicago, then the world’s tallest building, and companies that included a radio station and Allstate insurance. But the company stopped turning a profit in 2011, and it gradually started to sell assets, such as its legendary Craftsman brand and many of its properties, to stay afloat.

Sears Holdings listed $6.9 billion in assets and $11.3 billion in liabilities in documents filed in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Southern District of New York.

The largest U.S. toy retailer, Toys ‘R’ Us, tried to emerge from its 2017 bankruptcy filing but was forced to liquidate six months later after creditors lost confidence in its turnaround plan.

Reporting by Mike Spector and Harry Brumpton in New York, Jessica DiNapoli in Puerto Rico; Editing by Leslie Adler

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Ottawa education workers still teaching special-ed students at schools want safety checks

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Some Ottawa educators say they are concerned about the safety of classrooms that remain open in schools for special-education students.

Ontario elementary and secondary students have been sent home to study virtually because of the dangers posed by rising rates of COVID-19. However, special-education classes are still operating at many bricks-and-mortar schools.

The special-education classes include students with physical and developmental disabilities, autism and behaviour problems. Some don’t wear masks and require close physical care.

Two unions representing teachers and educational assistants at the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board have sent letters to Ottawa Public Health expressing their concerns.

It’s urgent that public health officials inspect classrooms to assess the safety of the special-ed classes, said a letter from the Ottawa branch of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, which also represents the educational assistants who work with special-needs children.

“In the absence of reasons based on medical evidence to keep specialized systems classes open, we are unsure as to the safety of staff and students in these programs,” said the letter signed by president Stephanie Kirkey and other union executives.

The letter said staff agreed that students in specialized classes had difficulty with remote education and benefited most from in-person instruction.

“Our members care deeply about the students they work with and are not only concerned about their own health and safety, but also about that of their students, as they are often unable to abide by COVID safety protocols that include masking, physical distancing and hand hygiene, thus making it more likely that they could transmit the virus to one another,” the letter said.

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board has 1,286 elementary and secondary students in special-education classes attending in person at 87 schools, said spokesperson Darcy Knoll.

While final numbers were not available, Knoll said the board believed a large number of the special-education students were back in class on Friday at schools.

In-person classes for other elementary and secondary students are scheduled to resume Jan. 25.

The school boards provide PPE for educators in special-education classes as required, including surgical masks, face shields, gloves and gowns.

Several educators interviewed said they don’t understand why it has been deemed unsafe for students in mainstream classes to attend class, but not special-ed students.

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Ottawa sets record of 210 new COVID-19 cases following lag in data reporting

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Ottawa has now broken its daily record for new COVID-19 cases twice in 2021, with 210 new cases added on Friday amid a lag in data reports from earlier in the week.

The nation’s capital has now seen 10,960 cases of the novel coronavirus.

Ottawa Public Health’s COVID-19 dashboard reports 977 active cases of the virus in Ottawa, a jump of more than 100 over Thursday’s figures.

One additional person has died in relation to COVID-19 in Ottawa, raising the city’s death toll in the pandemic to 395.

The record-setting case count comes a day after Ottawa reported a relatively low increase of 68 cases. Ontario’s COVID-19 system had meanwhile reported 164 new cases on Thursday.

OPH said Thursday that due to a large number of case reports coming in late Wednesday, the local system did not account for a large portion of cases. The health unit said it expects the discrepancy to be filled in the subsequent days.

Taken together, Thursday and Friday’s reports add 278 cases to Ottawa’s total, a daily average of 139 cases.

The new single-day record surpasses a benchmark set this past Sunday, when the city recorded 184 new cases.

Ontario also reported a new record of 4,249 cases on Friday, with roughly 450 of those cases added due to a lag in reporting in Toronto.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 also continues to climb in Ottawa. OPH’s dashboard shows there are currently 24 people in hospital with COVID-19, seven of whom are in the intensive care unit.

Three new coronavirus outbreaks were added to OPH’s dashboard on Friday. One outbreak affects a local shelter where one resident has tested positive for the virus, while the other two are traced to workplaces and private settings in the community.

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Ottawa family dealing with mould issue in apartment grateful for support

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OTTAWA — An Ottawa family, who has been dealing with mould in their south Ottawa apartment, is grateful for the support they have received from the community.

“I would like to say big very mighty, big thank you to everyone,” says Nofisat Adeniyi.

Adeniyi lives with her three sons in a South Keys apartment. Her son Desmond turned to social media on Sunday to seek help for the family, saying they’ve been dealing with mould in their unit and it has taken too long to fix.

“I see my mom go through a struggle everyday; with three kids, it’s not easy,” says 16-year-old Desmond Adeniyi.

He setup a GoFundMe page to help the family raise money to move out. After gaining online attention and the story, which originally aired CTV News Ottawa on Tuesday, they have been able to raise over $30,000.

“Yes! I was surprised, a big surprise!” says Nofisat Adeniyi, “We are free from the mess that we’ve been going through.”

The family was so touched, they decided to pay it forward and donated $5,000 to another family in need, “A lady my son told me about,” says Nofisat Adeniyi.

The recipient wants to remain anonymous, but when she found out from Adeniyi, “She was crying, she has three kids; I remember when I was, I can feel what she’s feeling – because I was once in those shoes.”

CTV News Ottawa did reach out to the property management company for an update on the mould. In a statement on Wednesday, a spokesperson for COGIR Realty wrote:

“We respect the privacy of our residents and are unable to disclose any specific information regarding any of our residents. We can, however, let you know that we are working with the residents and are making every effort to resolve this matter as soon as possible,” said Cogir Real Estate

The giving did not stop at just cash donations. “When I saw the segment, the thing that struck me the most was how easily the situation can be resolved,” says mould removal expert Charlie Leduc with Mold Busters in Ottawa.

Leduc is not involved in the case, but appeared in the original story, and after seeing the mould on TV wanted to help.

“This isn’t something that we typically do, but given the circumstance and given the fact that this has gone on way too long, our company is willing to go in and do this work for free,” said Leduc.

The Adeniyi family may now have some options, and are grateful to the community for the support.

“Yes, It’s great news — you can see me smiling,” says Nofisat.

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