I am struggling to understand the urgency to demolish this beautiful structure. I would encourage the Board to reconsider the urgency - let me and a team of developers expend some effort to preserve this heritage building.
By Michael P. Clarke
Published December 16, 2012
this article has been updated
I am a lawyer in Hamilton. I have been involved in successful renovation projects on James Street North - most notably, the conversion of the "Hotel Hamilton" from a dilapidated rooming house to artist studios and a thriving coffee shop (The Mulberry).
On Saturday, November 24, I learned that the Trustees of the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) had applied for a demolition permit to tear down the Sanford Avenue School. Although I was aware that the school was declared surplus, I had no idea that the process was this far along.
On November 26, 2012 I spoke to Tim Simmons, Ward 3 School Trustee and Chair of the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board. Chair Simmons indicated to me that there was a great deal of community support for tearing down the school to accommodate the expansion of the Pinky Lewis Recreation Centre and to provide additional green space for the children of Ward 3.
I also contacted Alex Moroz, President of Wever Hub, to introduce myself and to indicate that there are potential investors who are interested in reusing and adapting the building. These individuals, including myself, were not aware of the impending demolition of Sanford Avenue School until the last week or so.
I understand that the plan for the land upon which Sanford Avenue School sits is as follows:
Expand the Pinky Lewis recreation Centre to provide an aquatic centre and gymnasium; and
Provide additional green space.
My question and concern is: why would it be necessary to demolish Sanford Avenue School to accomplish these objectives?
If we can meet the objectives of an expanded Recreation Centre with additional green space, while at the same time preserving the building, that this would be the best possible outcome for Ward 3.
In my November 26 telephone conversation with Chair Simmons, I requested that the plans for demolition be put on hold for a short time so that I and other developers could be given the opportunity to meet with HWDSB Director John Malloy, the community, and the Trustees to develop a plan that would provide the best possible outcome for Ward 3 and the City of Hamilton overall.
Chair Simmons indicated that he was under the impression that there was significant community support for demolition.
We have people who have the financial ability, practical experience and love of the City of Hamilton to create something special for Ward 3. I have contacted five other developers, all of whom have successfully adapted heritage buildings for reuse. They are all interested in preserving Sanford Avenue School.
We do not in any way, intend to frustrate or delay the plans for the site.
The involvement of private investment will in fact, leverage the advantages to the Ward 3 community which would not otherwise be available if the building is torn down.
The transformation of James Street North has been significant in large part due to the renovation of the "Hotel Hamilton". This could be repeated for Ward 3, and indeed enhanced as it would incorporate all the needs of the community into one visionary plan for this challenged neighbourhood (Code Red series).
It may be that private investors inadvertently missed an opportunity to consult/provide input with respect to the potential for this site. All I ask is time to explore the opportunity to present a viable plan so that we can turn this into a win-win situation.
I would also ask for some assurance that the building be preserved a little longer, pending the progress and success of our negotiations and discussions.
It was encouraging that, as a result of the discussions with Chair Simmons and Mr. Moroz, a public meeting was held Tuesday, December 4, 2012 at Cathy Wever School.
A large contingent was present advocating against demolition of Sanford Avenue School. Those in favour of proceeding with the demolition seemed mostly concerned with green space for their children. They did not seem to be aware that there were other options for overall redevelopment of the site.
The "significant community support" for demolition seemed to be predicated on the assumption that tearing down the school was the only way to achieve the green space objective. After hearing that there may be other options, many residents were of a different view.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Chair Simmons invited me to provide a "plan" which would incorporate the desired green space, offering to take a revised plan to the Board of Trustees.
While I am grateful for this opportunity, any plan for the property is necessarily limited by the need to access to the inside of the building. If a process could be set up which would allow myself and a team of developers to properly assess the viability of the building to provide housing and other services to the community, something much more comprehensive could be produced for consideration.
I am now in the process of preparing a preliminary plan for the site which would meet the objectives of the community and preserve the school. The School Board will have this in hand prior to the next meeting of the Board Trustees, which I understand is scheduled for December 17.
Sanford School parking lot today (Image Credit: Google Streetview)
Conceptual Drawing: Sanford School parking lot converted into a new park (Image Credit: Google Streetview)
Chair Simmons spoke at the public meeting of "community gardens", "shade from trees" and "safe places for children to play". I can assure you that the preliminary plan in process will incorporate such features while still retaining the school.
I am struggling to understand the urgency to demolish this beautiful structure. I would encourage the Board of Trustees to reconsider the urgency - let me and a team of developers expend some effort to preserve this heritage building.
Mr. Bernie Morelli, Councillor for Ward 3, is on record as saying he will support any reasonable plan that allows for the preservation of the school and that also meets the objectives of the community. Unfortunately, we have not been given any opportunity to prepare such a plan.
Conceptual Drawing: Basketball court, soccer field
There are a number of frustrated and determined residents of Ward 3 who are opposed to demolition and who have been critical of the process giving rise to the decision to demolish. I refer you to the following links:
Public opposition to demolition appears not to have been expressed or made known to the Board prior to now.
I have no doubt that the Board has in good faith made a decision which it felt was in accord with the prevailing wishes of the neighbourhood. It seems now, however, that the wishes of the many residents of Ward 3, as expressed at the public meeting and elsewhere, are strongly in favour of considering other options.
Again, I am not interested in delaying this matter. The people and children of Ward 3 deserve the best possible outcome.
Please do not rush to tear down this building and replace it with a vacant lot (pending any reconstruction by the City) as so doing will set back this neighbourhood significantly.
Please defer the demolition, allow a team of developers to assess the interior of the building and present a comprehensive alternate solution.
I would be grateful if this issue could be placed on the agenda at the next meeting of the Board.
I would be pleased to answer questions or concerns any member of the Board of Trustees may have regarding this request.
Editor's Note: This was first sent as a letter to HWDSB Director John Malloy.
The Board of Trustees will be making a final decision on Monday, December 17 at a Special Committee of the Whole meeting at 7:00 PM, and ratified at their Board meeting at 8:00 PM. You can read the Special Committee of the Whole agenda [PDF] and Board Meeting agenda [PDF].
Please contact the Board of Trustees and Director Malloy to express your support for this initiative. Remember to be polite and respectful. firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
You can watch a recording of the HWDSB Board meeting via Joey Coleman's livestream.
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