Special Report: Education

Opportunities Squandered in Education Centre Decision

It just doesn't feel like this Board of trustees is on the same team as the majority of Hamiltonians who expect all public institutions to collaborate in good decision-making.

By Matt Jelly
Published May 30, 2012

Yesterday, the Hamilton Spectator and CBC Hamilton reported that the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board had rejected a proposal to locate their new $31 Million headquarters in the Cannon Knitting Mills, a brownfield property at Cannon and Mary Streets, adjacent to Beasley Park and Dr. Davey Public School.

The proposal was forwarded by Councillors Brian McHattie and Jason Farr, in a last-ditch effort to convince the Board of Education to remain in the downtown core, rather than move to a new location near Lime Ridge Mall, on the current site of Crestwood School.

As I've stated in previous posts and videos, the Crestwood property is home to seven acres of green space which would be turned into 480 parking spots by the Board.

Crestwood school, designed by Education Centre architect Joe Singer, would be demolished to make way for the new headquarters.

Crestwood Plan: 7 acres of greenspace paved over for parking
Crestwood Plan: 7 acres of greenspace paved over for parking

I believe the School Board and the City had an opportunity to do something truly remarkable - to leverage the significant public investment of building a new HWDSB headquarters to accomplish more than simply building a new building - to remediate a brownfield property adjacent to a park and one of its own schools, and to restore a vacant heritage building.

The Cannon Knitting Mills, built in 1854, needs significant investment in order to clean up contamination on the property left over from industrial dyes that were used when the Knitting Mills was still in operation. With the investment that a $31 million development represents, these contamination issues could have been addressed.

The task force charged with exploring downtown sites was originally intended to report back with its findings on June 18. All of these opportunities have been squandered by the HWDSB's vote to cut the process short by three weeks.

This is exactly how large public investments should be leveraged: achieving several community objectives with one development, killing three birds with one stone, maximizing public investment for optimal public good.

Our need for a new Board of education headquarters could have been married with our urgent development objectives. Instead, the Board will only achieve one objective: building themselves a new headquarters, easily accessible by the highway, conveniently located beside a mall.

Rather than remediate a brownfield, they will pave over a greenfield. Rather than restore a heritage building, they will demolish another school. Rather than locate the Board in an area populated by locally-owned businesses, they will locate the Board in an area virtually dominated by corporate chains. Rather than help to redevelop a serially neglected urban neighbourhood, they'll build the headquarters in a residential neighbourhood, bringing hundreds of cars and trucks into that area on a daily basis.

Ward 7 Councillor Scott Duvall and the Bruleville neighbourhood surrounding Crestwood have expressed concerns about the traffic impacts of this development, but it seems the Board continues to ignore those concerns. The concept for this development included very little in terms of public consultation.

As someone who has tried for quite some time to convince our public institutions to do everything they can to mitigate the environmental legacy of our industrial past, I find it particularly disappointing that the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board does not share those same objectives.

I find it disappointing that they are not willing to work in good faith with other public institutions in order to make sure the capital investments we make deliver the highest return in benefit to the public.

I find it frustrating that our Trustees, many of whom would describe themselves as progressives, do not seem to be motivated to support progressive development in Hamilton. They do not seem to think these broader city-building objectives ought to apply to their narrow institutional ego.

Let's review what has been decided: The HWDSB is treating neighbourhood schools like Coca-Cola bottling plants through consolidation and centralization. They've sentenced their downtown headquarters to needless demolition in order to pay for a new headquarters beside a corporate mall.

They propose to fill a residential neighbourhood with unwanted surface parking and heavy traffic. They've rejected a proposal to revitalize a vacant brownfield property in our neglected urban core.

They've voted to shutter seven high schools and three public schools. They've ignored and dismissed public engagement that in any way runs contrary to these plans, or raises serious questions about how decisions are made.

Considering all of the above, it just doesn't feel like this Board of trustees is on the same team as the majority of Hamiltonians who expect all public institutions to collaborate in good decision-making.

Building a better city seems to be someone else's responsibility.

First published on Matt Jelly's website.

Jelly is a local artist, graphic designer and map maker living in Downtown Hamilton, Ontario in the Central Neighbourhood. Matt is an advocate for built heritage, toxic waste eradication and the revitalization of downtown Hamilton. www.mattjelly.com

42 Comments

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted May 30, 2012 at 13:03:50

Our petition for an administrative review by the Ministry of Education of the Board's decision to close Prince Philip has been submitted:

http://weneed3.com/wp-content/uploads/20...

The facilitator is to be appointed within 30 days.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted May 30, 2012 at 13:31:26 in reply to Comment 77583

please tell me that somebody from WeNeed3 is planning on running for Judith's position in 2014.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted May 30, 2012 at 14:18:09 in reply to Comment 77589

Yes. I can tell you that a very worthy candidate has all but confirmed that she is running. I can also tell you that it isn't me. ;) However I will be throwing all my resources behind her when the time comes.

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted May 30, 2012 at 13:45:44 in reply to Comment 77589

Yes. Or at least, so I am told.

I have a lifetime pledge of never running for public office. I am tempermentally unsuited to it, thanks to a faulty diplomacy gene and a circumspectionectomy I underwent as a child.

However, should no one else step in, I too (along with others) have committed to doing it, and if I do it, I will give every ounce of myself to winning.

We want her out on her ear. The disgust for her is palpable. She's been contacting individual people seeking to rebuild bridges, actually, and most people are having none of it.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted May 30, 2012 at 14:20:59 in reply to Comment 77593

She's been contacting people? Seriously? Wow. Well, that seems to confirm that she is planning on running again. She will be getting virtually no votes west of the 403.

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By Conrad66 (registered) | Posted May 30, 2012 at 13:21:23

I agree with you on this one Matt !

Mac will built a verry nice building in the core and have ALOT of spending money from workers and pls visiting the place i think much more then what the HWDSB DID and for that matter if its to much for some pls parents and kids they can go to the Catholic schools if there not happy with HWDSB

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By Pedro (anonymous) | Posted May 30, 2012 at 14:16:55 in reply to Comment 77585

You mean the Catholic Board that has officially taken a stance against Gay-Straight Alliances?

Home schooling never looked so good.

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted May 30, 2012 at 13:49:39 in reply to Comment 77585

No, Conrad, I cannot send my children to Catholic school. Catholic education at the elementary level is closed to most non-Catholics.

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By slodrive (registered) | Posted May 30, 2012 at 14:37:46

Here's my message to:
tim.simmons@hwdsb.on.ca, alex.johnstone@hwdsb.on.ca, lbroten.mpp@liberal.ola.org cc: McMeekin_Ted-MPP , "Ferguson, Lloyd"

Apologies for the long-windedness...and a shade on the clunky side, but I was pretty pissed as i wrote.

Representatives,

The path you have all chosen for the future of the Hamilton Wentworth District School board is disturbing to say the least. Perhaps first and foremost, was the decision to prematurely dissolve a group investigating all options of retaining the school board head-quarters in downtown Hamilton. As a publicly funded entity, the lack of democratic due-diligence in this situation will leave a lasting effect on the populaces faith in the ability to have their voices heard. If anyone needs an example of why voter turnout is low and political apathy is so rampant, look no further.

As an organization tasked with training future generations, it would be ideal to hold the HWDSB as leaders in progressive thinking - committed to building a better tomorrow. Unfortunately, opting to set the impressive, and internationally recognized, urban revitalization efforts of everyday-citizens back decades flies in the face of anything resembling forward thinking. Rather than investigating the City of Hamilton's offer to revitalize an urban brownfield -- the historic Knitting Mills - the Board, to everyone's amazement, called this "too little, too late".

Now, over $31 million tax payer dollars will go towards the further erosion of downtown Hamilton and fund the paving over 7 acres of green space. $31 million dollars toward delivering a kick to the groin to the many Hamiltonians who have fueled the economic recovery of the city's core. Adding insult to injury to the decision to amalgamate secondary schools in the lower city areas -- where code-red neighbourhoods need more support, not less. Where recovering, revitalized neighbourhoods now, instantly, cannot be considered walkable.

At the very least, a comprehensive public statement should be made by the HWDSB explaining this course of action. Included should be a rationalization for using public funds to the detriment of an urban centre and contributing to pandemic urban sprawl.

Thank you,

(Slodrive) Ancaster, ON

Comment edited by slodrive on 2012-05-30 14:49:18

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By Pifflelfat (anonymous) | Posted May 30, 2012 at 14:41:17

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted May 30, 2012 at 16:37:46 in reply to Comment 77608

I guess there are people out there who disagree with you. I am often asked if I am running, so I thought I should clarify rather than have anyone think I was being coy.

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By BeulahAve (registered) | Posted May 30, 2012 at 14:50:30 in reply to Comment 77608

Judith, is that you?!

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By highwater (registered) | Posted May 30, 2012 at 16:43:53 in reply to Comment 77609

I think it might be my husband. ;)

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By Zephyr (registered) | Posted May 30, 2012 at 15:46:03

Judith responded to my email with a form letter that said the Board was worried about securing provincial funding and had to act fast. My response is that there is only one taxpayer, and provincial funds come from the same source as any other public money. Hamilton is turning into a sinkhole of public money that is invested in haste - and I am very afraid we will repent at our leisure.

The Board will rue the Crestwood decision. Cities across North America are revitalizing. The latest generation considers city cores the ideal place to work, live and play - much as Europe always has. At some point, people will look back in astonishment that anyone actually chose to locate a headquarters in the middle of suburbia.

As for running for the Board, I too would step up and run before I let Judith Bishop run unopposed again. I am not particularly well-connected, but I do know how to listen to other people and communicate their ideas. I am still naive enough to believe representative government, while rare, is possible.

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 30, 2012 at 22:38:14 in reply to Comment 77612

Yep...I made this point to someone today. Look at all the public money that we are about to completely waste in this city between this school fiasco and new stadium. Zero city building on the minds of any of our so-called great institutions.

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By ScreamingViking (registered) | Posted May 30, 2012 at 22:14:23 in reply to Comment 77612

The latest generation considers city cores the ideal place to work, live and play - much as Europe always has. At some point, people will look back in astonishment that anyone actually chose to locate a headquarters in the middle of suburbia.

E.g., just today... http://www.thespec.com/news/business/art...

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By Tony (anonymous) | Posted May 30, 2012 at 16:08:38

Latest Hamilton Magazine Poll is about the Board of Ed fleeing to the Mountain - so far, the majority don't support the decision (no surprise there, then!)

Vote here: www.hamiltonmagazine.com

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By Rook (anonymous) | Posted May 31, 2012 at 13:59:51 in reply to Comment 77615

I'm not one for push polls but this one seems like its heart is in the right place.

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By Sun Media Corp (anonymous) | Posted May 31, 2012 at 07:39:23 in reply to Comment 77615

Thanx 4 tha luv!

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By rednic (registered) | Posted May 30, 2012 at 21:17:59

Well on a positive note ...kudos to Farr and McHattie for proposing such a great option. It is refreshing to see some people with vision.

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By CouldaWouldaShoulda (anonymous) | Posted May 31, 2012 at 04:53:47 in reply to Comment 77627

"Well on a positive note ...kudos to Farr and McHattie for proposing such a great option. It is refreshing to see some people with vision."

And for a couple of completely different takes, watch 'The O Show' from this week: http://youtu.be/R3W0T1ynjLE

From about the 10:00 mark, you'll hear some pretty sound observations, especially from Laura Babcock when she opines that is was a 'PR/damaage-control exercise to tire out the public...'

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted May 31, 2012 at 12:33:08

So the goal isn't to guilt someone into contributing, or comparing contributions. It's more having to do with creating situations where it's more likely that more residents will contribute according to their abilities and inclinations.

Hear hear!

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By lorne (registered) - website | Posted May 31, 2012 at 12:43:33

Matt said: I find it frustrating that our Trustees, many of whom would describe themselves as progressives, do not seem to be motivated to support progressive development in Hamilton. They do not seem to think these broader city-building objectives ought to apply to their narrow institutional ego.

I too am very disappointed with the short-shortsightedness and selfishness of the board decision, but I think your observation about their narrow institutional ego is an apt explanation for their abandonment of the core. While the board says the relocation will not cost taxpayers any money because it will be funded by the sale of existing properties, what it fails to acknowledge because of that ego is the fact that the properties are not owned by the board, but rather the area's taxpayers, who have been clearly left out of the entire process.

The decision is consistent with my own worldview on institutional behavour - the longer an institution exists, the more self-serving and corrupt it becomes.

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 31, 2012 at 23:00:21

Wow...somehow I missed the fact earlier today that last nights vote was 6-5. Makes it even more stunning that the downtown trustee voted for Crestwood. I don't buy their 'fear of the province' for one second. You're telling me the province would have said no to:

  • a cheaper site
  • in Hamilton's poorest neighbourhood, where public funds SHOULD be invested
  • freeing up Crestwood to be sold for a pretty penny to housing developers

I think not....this was all about 'packing our bags'

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By highwater (registered) | Posted June 01, 2012 at 00:33:43 in reply to Comment 77701

You're not the only one who's not buying it.

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