Prince Philip School Closure a Big Mistake

The proposed closure of Prince Philip School would facilitate a socially corrosive education policy, disproportionately harm an existing community and produce significant environmental damage.

By Joe Minor
Published March 10, 2012

Hamilton Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) Trustee Judish Bishop has requested public comments on the Board's proposal to close Prince Philip Elementary School.

I think that this would be a mistake, and I think that the recommendations of the Accommodation Review Committee (that all three schools be kept open) makes more sense.

I want to start by saying that both of my children were educated within the HWDSB system. My son attended GR Allen, Dalewood, and Westdale and my daughter attended GR Allen, Dalewood, and now attends Westmount. Both have received a quality education in the HWDSB system.

My son is now attending the University of Toronto, and has found that his education within the HWDSB system prepared him well for his university studies. I would like to thank both the HWDSB and Trustee Bishop for their efforts in providing this quality education.

There are many reasons why closing Prince Phillip School would be a mistake. Most of these reasons can be grouped into three categories:

  1. The HWDSB should not facilitate the implementation of a socially corrosive provincial education policy.
  2. Closing the school will harm the existing community.
  3. Closing the school will result in environmental damage, including to the habitat of Species At Risk.

Socially Corrosive Education Policy

The HWDSB should not facilitate the implementation of a socially corrosive provincial education policy.

It has been a while since I was last told about the provincial policy that has foisted this "proposal" upon the HWDSB. As I recall, the policy is essentially: In order to build new schools, existing schools must be closed in order to produce an overall occupancy rate over a particular threshold.

I suspect that the policy is stated in somewhat more obfuscatory terms, but that is the net result at the "implementation" (victims') end of things.

This policy is fundamentally unfair to the long-established existing communities that have for years depended upon these schools. It is unfair to these communities to close their schools in order to provide new schools built on greenspace (frequently farmland) in low density areas at the edge of town.

It is not the fault of these older established communities that much recent development was poorly conceived without regard for the costs of providing services such as new schools.

In fact, many of these new developments had signs posted on them indicating that there were no schools and that the deal struck to allow the cheap development was that potential buyers would have to transport their students to existing schools.

The planning for these new developments was clearly deficient, but that is not a just reason to fix the resulting problems by destroying older communities by closing their schools.

I suspect that a careful analysis will show that the average income of the residents around the "schools to be closed" is lower than the average income of the residents around where the new schools are proposed to be built.

This means that the net result of the provincial policy is to use the strong arm of government to take from the poor to give to the rich. The HWDSB should not be an accomplice in this theft.

The HWDSB should instead focus its efforts on educating the provincial government about the harm this provincial policy is causing older communities, and ask governments to deal with the problems of sprawled development without arbitrarily taking from older communities. It is unfair to force these communities to pay for problems they had no role in creating.

Harm Existing Community

Closing the school will harm the existing community.

Prince Phillip School is a long standing established pillar of support for the Ainslie Wood community. It is unfair to the residents of Ainslie Wood to close their school in a futile attempt to mitigate problems caused by sprawl development.

There are many costs that will be borne by the residents of Ainslie Wood if Prince Phillip school is closed.

I suspect that the "analysis" that led to the recommendation that the school be closed did not consider the costs associated with the extra transportation that will be required to move the students to GR Allen. These costs include lost time, air pollution (for those being moved by vehicles), and reduced life expectancy (e.g., accidents will happen, particularly for those walking across busy thoroughfares to and from school).

It makes no sense to force students to walk past a perfectly good (but arbitrarily closed) school in order to access a more distant school cloaked in traffic.

Now is a particularly stupid time to increase vehicular traffic to school. The costs for this transportation (e.g., the price of gasoline) are near historic highs and are expected to rise.

We are also being rapidly educated about the ever-increasing environmental costs (e.g., from CO2 and particulates) that will occur if the school is closed.

Environmental Damage

Closing the school will result in environmental damage, including to the habitat of Species At Risk.

Closing Prince Phillip School will cause double the usual damage that usually occurs due to a school closure.

The usual damage from a school closure results from the construction of a new school on greenspace (either farmland or wildlife habitat). If the new school is built on a field, then wildlife habitat for Species At Risk (e.g., bobolinks and meadowlarks) is destroyed.

If PPS is closed, then not only will this damage occur but additional damage will occur when the PPS students are moved to GR Allen, causing additional greenspace destroying construction there as well.

GR Allen is located in Churchill Park, which is part of Cootes Paradise. Cootes Paradise is an internationally recognized significant wildlife habitat.

Scientists at the Royal Botanical Gardens estimate that Cootes is losing a species every other year due to the fact that Cootes has been made too small by surrounding development. In order to slow the current extirpation ("local extinction") rate of 0.5 species per year, further losses of greenspace in Cootes/Churchill need to be curtailed.

The "Churchill Park Master Plan" process was told that if PPS is closed and the students are moved to GR Allen, then additional construction would need to take place in order to accommodate the growth at GR Allen.

In particular, the CPMP committee was told that the additional teachers would "require" additional parking and that this additional parking would "require" the paving of more greenspace within Churchill Park.

While the proposed pavement would destroy mostly grass, the environmental value of grass is far superior to pavement as a ground covering in a wildlife sanctuary like Cootes.

Pavement is directly polluting, particularly during construction but also when pollutants such as PAHs leach out on an ongoing basis and during maintenance. The vehicles parked on the pavement also drip toxic substances. Salt used on the pavement is another problem, but this is a minor issue compared to the others.

Replacing the pervious vegetated surface with an impervious cap has many negative effects on the hydrology of Cootes. If the runoff is directed into Cootes, the runoff would be both toxic and would cause erosion. If the runoff is directed into sewer systems, then this water would be lost to the Cootes ecosystem, causing problems for organisms downstream.

Grass also provides ecosystem services: it purifies water running over it and also purifies the air. Transpiration from grass also cools the air.

In contrast, pavement increases the urban heat island effect and is also releases pollutants. Pavement is also prime habitat for motorized vehicles, which cause greatly more pollution when they congregate on their preferred spots.

Closing PPS will then result in replacing vegetation that provides positive ecosystem services with pavement that causes pollution.

The grass that would be lost is also wildlife habitat, including for several Species At Risk. The grass in Churchill Park/Cootes Paradise provides a large hatch of both at least one lepidopteran and one dipteran species. These insects are then eaten by nighthawks, chimney swifts, and barn swallows (all Species At Risk).

While I have seen all of these species regularly in Churchill/Cootes, the species making most obvious use of insects from the Churchill Park grass is barn swallows. Barn swallows fly very low over the surface of the grass and pick insects off of the surface "on the fly".

One day, while walking to a soccer practice, I was surrounded by at least six barn swallows who flew tight circles around me in order to pick off the insects I was flushing off the grass. There is no doubt that the grass in Churchill Park is a feeding resource for this Species At Risk.

Pavement is literally dead space (actually worse: it causes harm that extends beyond its footprint). If PPS is closed and the result is more pavement in Churchill/Cootes, then the HWDSB will be complicit in the continued loss of species from Cootes Paradise.

Joe Minor is a biologist and lives in Westdale. Both of his children attended GR Allan.


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By Bromo (anonymous) | Posted March 10, 2012 at 19:40:41

How long can a school or school board continue to operate contrary yo provincial edict? What's the track record on that sort of thing?

Also, and this is purely hypothetical, if Province X were wrestling a $16 billion deficit and education was one of the only ministries to see substantial increases in annual budgets, why are schools hard done by?

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted March 10, 2012 at 20:03:40 in reply to Comment 75147

Because the increases go to salaries, not into infrastructure, like almost any unionized profession.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 10, 2012 at 21:52:04 in reply to Comment 75148

according to the boards own numbers there are less students and fewer schools in Hamilton today than there was 40 years why do they need a new administrative HQ to house hundreds of extra employees?? Why don't we cut HQ jobs at the same rate that we cut seats??

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By seriously? (anonymous) | Posted March 10, 2012 at 22:25:19

a parking lot beside GR Allen school or the east side of Churchill Park will NOT impact Cootes. the biggest impact to Cootes recently is the clear cutting RBG did along their trail system.

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By Allen (registered) | Posted March 12, 2012 at 01:45:36

Recommendition and Accomodation is existing from ancient time till now

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted March 12, 2012 at 09:59:10

I have to say, Mr. Minor, I've always disagreed with your stance on Churchill Park. Churchill Park is not a pristine ecological jewel, it's a lawn. I've seen golf-courses with more wildlife. I'd be far more interested in preserving actual wilderness and farmlands compared to Churchill - if Churchill was completely obliterated by infill development, I'd prefer that to more suburban sprawl.

I absolutely support the efforts of We Need 3 in preventing this pointless and destructive amalgamation of our local schools... but at this point I'm quite sick of hearing naysayers when it comes to working on Churchill Park. The park is functioning only as athletic fields and between the shortage of parking, the drainage issues, and the poor accessibility it isn't even effective at that purpose.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted March 12, 2012 at 10:30:31 in reply to Comment 75183

OT alert!

I agree Churchill is not a pristine ecological jewel in its current state, but it is immediately adjacent to one and needs to be designed in a way that will help protect Cootes.

I agree with alot of what Dr. Minor has to say, but I must admit I have a hard time understanding how the loss of the amount of non-native turf grass that would be taken up by a 1.5m granular pathway will make or break the survival of a species, particularly when the RBG itself wants the pathway to protect the woods.

But of course his points on the unfairness of taking schools away from families who have made the conscious choice to move to a walkable community, in order to give schools to families who chose car-dependent communities with no pre-existing schools, are dead on!

Comment edited by highwater on 2012-03-12 10:32:10

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted March 12, 2012 at 11:06:01

Ya know what I'd like to see? A list of the city's schools/neighbourhoods ranked by average income. Then a list of which schools over the last decade have been slated for closure. I suspect we'd see a few correlations.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted March 12, 2012 at 19:34:28 in reply to Comment 75185

Undustrial muses ...

Ya know what I'd like to see? A list of the city's schools/neighbourhoods ranked by average income.

I suspect that you would be surprised - if not by the events, then at least by the intention.

The members of the board of trustees are avowed friends of the disadvantaged, for the most part. If they close schools in poor neighbourhoods, it's only so that they can integrate the populations with those of richer schools (I draw this conclusion from reading The Spec and from a few conversations with trustees).

Because, you see, the dis-disadvantaged only do better- on average - because they have access to better resources. So if you _pool_ the resources, well ... everyone will do better - on average.

At least, that's the well-intentioned theory.

This theory leaves out the importance of parental attitudes and involvement. It assumes that somehow the _schools_ in the more affluent neighbourhoods are "better" or have "more resources" - as opposed to being filled with kids whose parents value education more (on average).

Which really doesn't have much to do with Prince Philip and G. R. Allan - both schools are above-average in measured outcomes for the Hamilton board and both are in middle-classish neighbourhoods.

But I have it on fairly good authority that "overcoming elitism" is an element here.

Comment edited by moylek on 2012-03-12 20:47:47

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By highwater (registered) | Posted March 12, 2012 at 15:48:53 in reply to Comment 75185

This is one of the many reasons why I'm involved in this fight. Ainslie Wood is a relatively affluent area. Prince Philip is currently close to capacity and predicted to grow, and has one of the highest EQAO scores in the city. If the board can close a school like that, less advantaged neighbourhoods don't have a hope. It will have a huge domino effect.

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By job (anonymous) | Posted March 13, 2012 at 23:46:46 in reply to Comment 75190

'It will have a huge domino effect'


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By highwater (registered) | Posted March 14, 2012 at 14:20:58 in reply to Comment 75210

The board is about to roll out a whole series of Arcs. Prince Philip is a successful school that is almost at capacity and predicted to exceed that capacity even by the boards own dubious projections. In addition, the evidence that has come out over the course of the arc overwhelmingly supports keeping all three schools open. If in spite of all this the board succeeds in closing PP, it will set a disturbing precedent. The communities affected by all the impending arcs will have no basis on which to oppose the closure of their schools. The board is setting the stage for ramming through their intended closures unopposed

Comment edited by highwater on 2012-03-14 14:23:57

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted March 14, 2012 at 16:09:43

First of all, people are having fewer kids thus there will be fewer schools. Period. Just because you seem to have an affinity for Prince Phillip doesn't mean closing it is a mistake.

Second, while enrollment has been dropping education funding has skyrocketed. If anybody here thinks that that extra funding is going towards improved education then you are smoking crack. All that money is going into greedy teacher unions and other administration.

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By Henry and Joe (anonymous) | Posted March 15, 2012 at 13:42:17 in reply to Comment 75217

While it is true that enrolment has declined over the past 10 years, the question of which schools should be closed is complex. If we wanted a simplistic solution, we could just turn the problem on its head. Instead of insisting that emptying schools are closed before new ones are built, perhaps we can insist on a moratorium on all new builds until old schools are filled to capacity. This way people who choose new subdivisions, and arguably have more choice in where they live, will select a location that has easy access to schools.

While salaries are the largest component of education budgets at about 75%, blaming teacher unions as 'greedy' is easy but not correct. The last teaching contract raise of 3% per year was generous, but not that out of line with the Broader Public Sector. OPSEU got 2.25 % /a in 2008, and in May, the OPP got a 5% raise, and Toronto Metro police came in just under 3% for a 4 year deal. Most teachers that I speak to are prepared to accept a pay freeze (real wage cut), in order to combat rising education costs. However, I doubt the membership will feel inclined to hand back benefits that have been collectively bargained and earned through hard work. That is not greed, that is being principled.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted March 14, 2012 at 16:19:09 in reply to Comment 75217

Read the reports. It's the evidence that shows that closing PP is a mistake.

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By Barry (anonymous) | Posted March 19, 2012 at 13:16:38

New article by Gill Templeman on -- Why 20th Century School Consolidation Doesn’t Work in the 21st Century --

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