Special Report: Education

Opportunity to Save Sanford School and Provide Community Green Space

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:

  1. Expand the Pinky Lewis recreation Centre to provide an aquatic centre and gymnasium; and

  2. 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.

Involvement of Private Investment

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.

Public Meeting

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.

Preliminary Plan

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)
Sanford School parking lot today (Image Credit: Google Streetview)

Conceptual Drawing: Sanford School parking lot converted into a new park (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
Conceptual Drawing: Basketball court, soccer field

Public Opposition to Demolition

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. tim.simmons@hwdsb.on.ca, robert.barlow@hwdsb.on.ca, studenttrustee@hwdsb.on.ca, judith.bishop@hwdsb.on.ca, ray.mulholland@hwdsb.on.ca, todd.white@hwdsb.on.ca, laura.peddle@hwdsb.on.ca, lillian.orban@hwdsb.on.ca, wes.hicks@hwdsb.on.ca, alex.johnstone@hwdsb.on.ca, jessica.brennan@hwdsb.on.ca, karen.turkstra@hwdsb.on.ca, bernie.morelli@hamilton.ca, john.malloy@hwdsb.on.ca, pat.stones@hwdsb.on.ca

You can watch a recording of the HWDSB Board meeting via Joey Coleman's livestream.

Michael P. Clarke is a lawyer in Hamilton. He has been involved in several successful renovation projects on James Street North, including the redevelopment of the Hotel Hamilton into artists studios and a thriving coffee shop.


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By jason (registered) | Posted December 16, 2012 at 14:21:27

Great work Michael. This has been baffling to me since we all heard about this...why tear down the school when there is a ton of empty space all around it? As well, I'm not certain, but based on looking at the back of the school it appears as though the back low piece of the school could be demolished to add green space, or apartment parking etc.....

Nobody is surprised that the school board simply wants to tear it down and get on to building more schools in the countryside. I'm glad to see such work being done by residents and business people who care about Hamilton, and who understand (and again, care) what makes a city successful, and how a neighbourhood can be revitalized. Empty rubble lots for years on end accomplish neither.

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By hentor (registered) - website | Posted December 17, 2012 at 13:36:57 in reply to Comment 84004

I keep on thinking of that lovely lot at King and Wentworth by Cathedral High! I'm not so sure that the gravel lot surrounded by "temporary" fencing that has been there the past few years is better than the decrepit tavern that was there before. It was demolished to make parking for Cathedral, yet I haven't seen it used as a lot and why don't they pave it?

At least Sanford is a beautiful building that isn't ramshackle and falling down - the bones seem to be sound, despite it not having a boiler.

Just saying that there already is a precedence for a Hamilton area BoE with aspirations of real-estate gains with no evidence of any pre-planning and they made a botch job of then as the other BoE will now...

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By Gary Santucci (anonymous) | Posted December 16, 2012 at 16:56:02

Let's hope that Michael Clark's proposal will be the first of many when the process is opened up to the community at large and beyond. The message should be that here in Hamilton and in particular Ward 3, that we are open for creative solutions to the adaptive re-use of our built heritage that has been so woefully neglected and that the process be fair and transparent to all.

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By H+H (registered) - website | Posted December 17, 2012 at 08:04:59

I have learned through direct correspondence with Rom D'Angelo, Director Facilities Management & Capital Programs that (these quotes are taken directly from his emails to me):

"What I'm saying here is that the HWDSB was clear to us in the city that the property wasn't for sale."

"This exercise of estimating a market value has become difficult for the sole reason that the building and site does not belong to the City, the School Board has no interest in selling the property to the city nor does it have an interest in selling to the public. The Board is reluctant to put a price of the site."

"The $1.4M stated in your email below, is a figure in the City's Capital Budget and will be used for the Pinky Lewis expansion, for design and scope documents, getting the project ready for tendering and construction phase (i.e getting it shovel-ready)."

So, a senior person from the City of Hamilton tells us that the HWDSB will not tell the City, with whom they have been working on a re-development plan for 5 years according to Councillor Morelli, whether or not they will sell the building, nor how much they would ask for it should they decide to sell it. Some plan.

No wonder no private investors came forward when the Board still doesn't have a price for the building and says they don't want to sell it. See, most people like to have some sense for price before committing to purchase something. Some plan.

When I asked Bernie Morelli at the December 4 meeting at Cathy Wever how much the HWDSB wanted for the building, he said he had the number, but wanted to verify it. Pretty tough to verify when the HWDSB says they don't have a number and won't give it to Morelli even if they had one. Even senior City staff don't have the number. Some plan.

This has been poorly managed from the get go. The HWDSB, and in particular Tim Simmons, and Councillor Morelli need to show us their business plan. Enough of the Hallmark greeting card pandering about children, and trees, and shade, and heritage. Start by being transparent. You know, the good definition of public transparency, not the bad one they seem to be engaged in at the moment.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 17, 2012 at 08:13:57 in reply to Comment 84016


Don't know what else to say, really.

Comment edited by seancb on 2012-12-17 08:14:17

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By Local (anonymous) | Posted December 17, 2012 at 12:32:45

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

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By RB (registered) | Posted December 17, 2012 at 16:21:13 in reply to Comment 84036

Even if he didn't have the "best interests" in mind (which you have no way of proving/knowing), how on earth could buying a school slated for demo & re purposing it possibly be a bad thing?

This statement just seems baseless.

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By Another Local (anonymous) | Posted December 17, 2012 at 12:47:49 in reply to Comment 84036

The lawyer made some money by following the lead of pioneers like Dave Kuruc and others and investing in the adaptive reuse of a derelict building on James North. Pretty sure he has the best interests of the area at heart.

There, fixed that for you.

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By Enough already (anonymous) | Posted December 17, 2012 at 13:20:15

This is getting insane! I know Michael. He is a gentleman who didn't need "to line his pockets" by taking a risky gamble with 4 investors to kick out a creep like Rev Ron and improve the street. This anti-gentrification crap has to stop. There is nothing good about sucking as a city. God bless the early investors in James. Time marches on. There is enough pie for indie artists and developers. Have you seen the prices at www.hotelhamilton.com they are cheap, clean and amazing.

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By RB (registered) | Posted December 17, 2012 at 16:22:21 in reply to Comment 84038

"This anti-gentrification crap has to stop."

I cannot agree enough with this line... bravo!

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted December 17, 2012 at 20:52:03 in reply to Comment 84048

Gentrification has some very real impacts on very vulnerable people, simply negating all criticism or demanding the silence of any disagreement that gentrification is all good is elitist-petit-bourgeois-bullshit of the highest order.

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By wake up call (anonymous) | Posted December 19, 2012 at 08:21:54 in reply to Comment 84058

Real gentrification has negative issues, but that is not what is happening on James. Progress is not elitist.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted December 21, 2012 at 09:47:40 in reply to Comment 84149

Progress is not elitist.

Don't kid yourself, what is often sold as "progress" certainly can be elitist. It may just take a different perspective to see it that way.

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By Steve (registered) | Posted December 19, 2012 at 10:30:43 in reply to Comment 84149

Progress is a natural order and if gentrification results, so be it.

Why do some want to stand in the way of progress instead of looking for ways to join it? I guess the its easy to oppose it, than join and they easy way too often wins out.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 19, 2012 at 11:02:57 in reply to Comment 84163

exactly...this is one of Hamilton's biggest problems. A small group of people who think that a several km swath of poverty and no opportunities is somehow a badge of honour to preserve.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted December 21, 2012 at 09:41:11 in reply to Comment 84167

Preserve??? You think that's what people who are against gentrification want? Maybe people who speak out about gentrification view the city as more than buildings. They see the city as a community of people and if you really want to "Raise the Hammer" you need to raise the community out of poverty and not just replace the lower income demographic with a higher income one.

Ugh, this place makes me want to puke sometimes. More concern for ugly decaying buildings than people on this website.

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By Listen (anonymous) | Posted December 23, 2012 at 11:09:36 in reply to Comment 84305

Are you even reading this article or any other, Keily? The preservation of old buildings and repurposing them helps people. Destroying built heritage and replacing it with expensive stucco developments does what exactly for vulnerable people?

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By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted December 17, 2012 at 13:52:17

Adaptive reuse of Sanford School has been attempted earlier.

alt text

Here is my email exchange with Clr. Morelli regarding Sanford School from July 26/27, 2012.

Unfortunately, the anticipated walk-thru of the school building never materialized, as HWDSB appeared to be committed to its plans for its demolition -- which was solely guided by the feedback it received from the small group working around the Wever Elementary School & Pinky Lewis Rec Centre.

For a more detailed understanding as to how this decision to demolish got shaped - read this:

There has been much misinformation about the roles that have been played by various organizations/groups leading up to the decision to demolish this building. Unfortunately, there has been a reluctance among local media sources to publicly discuss facts.

Much as we would like to beat down on somebody for this unfortunate outcome, the truth is that we are ourselves to blame as a community, for not being vigilant. The impending demise of Sanford School was indeed brought up in a few exchanges here in 2011 & 2012, but many were focused on other issues.

HWDSB and its trustees are not to be blamed in this saga, for it has been the City Community Services Dept which was essentially leading all civic planning and by default civic engagement at Sanford, Wever School, Pinky Lewis Rec centre.

And it has been the small group of individuals operating via the Wever School (who do provide essential services to Kids), who gave HWDSB the impression that they represented the local community -- and hence the unfortunate chain of events that has led to such an outcome.

My request to the HWDSB is this:

If there is a change of direction viz the demolition of Sanford School, (and I have full confidence that this will be the outcome tonight) -- then in order to rectify the damage done by a faulty process of community engagement, a through assessment must be made to understand how these conditions arose in the first place.

And then, a totally transparent RFP needs to be developed by HWSDB, so that re-development proposals are solicited from across the region or province, and if need be across the nation to ensure that the very best ideas are brought forward.

I hope that the HWDSB trustees makes the right call tonight to alter the course on Sanford School, and turns this crisis into an opportunity to re-invent not just itself, but thru its collaboration with the City of Hamilton, help re-focus the City's "Planning and Community Services Department" to develop a keener understanding of the positive changes that have been already underway in Ward 3 for some years now.

Mahesh P. Butani


The design schematic in proposal above establishes that all needs of the Wever School and the Pinky Lewis Rec Centre can be easily accommodated without demolishing the Sanford School building -- with the only exception that the Soccer field design has to be seen in the right context.

The size of the soccer field shown in the earlier published drawing, is an Adult Soccer Field with a size of: 60-80 yds x 100-120 yds (or 180 ft-240 ft x 300 ft-360 ft).

Ironically, an adult size soccer field was being proposed for an Elementary School, (upto 5th grade).

This incomprehensible overreach in the size of the Soccer field has led to the faulty conclusions that the Sanford School Building had to be torn down.

The average age of kids in 5th grade is 10-11 yrs. and as such they do not require an Adult Size Soccer Field, but a standard U-10 or U-11 size field -- which is around: 40-50 yds x 70-80 yds (or 150 ft x 240 ft). Kids that age are not able kick as far as an adult could, nor run that much. Hence the different sizes of Soccer field for different age groups.

As things stand, the space available behind - or to the North of the Sanford Building, simply cannot accommodate an adult size soccer field. However, the appropriate size as required for an Elementary school can be easily accommodated at the rear of the Sanford School Building, without having to demolish the main building. Just the removal of the rear gym structure provides ample room for the field.

Other requirements of the Wever School & Pinky Lewis Rec Centre as shown in the drawing above, can also be very easily phased in as the funding for it materializes.

Such an approach does not requires the demolition of the Sanford School Building, which can be re-purposed by the private sector via a public RFP.

The Sanford School redevelopment will generate significant assessment revenues for the city, which then could be used to fund the expansion of the Pinky Lewis Rec Centre and support Kids & Adult programming at the Wever School.

Comment edited by Mahesh_P_Butani on 2012-12-17 14:36:40

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 17, 2012 at 14:33:30 in reply to Comment 84040

That is more or less what I was envisioning as a compromise solution that still allows all elements to take place! Fantastic to see it has been drawn out. What is the boards problem? They aren't making money off a demolition are they? I like your idea of phasing things in as the money allows.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 17, 2012 at 21:47:22

Can we all agree that this is the worst institution to ever set foot in Hamilton? The destruction they've done to many of our neediest neighbourhoods is incredible. In other cities, public schools, colleges and universities see it as part of their mandate to lead the charge in redeveloping neighbourhoods that the private sector won't touch. Here, they do the opposite. I'll be redirecting my taxes to the Catholic Board by the next election.

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By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted December 17, 2012 at 23:38:53

It was indeed a sad day for Hamilton.

The only saving grace was that there were no children present in the Council Hall tonight to witness the damage done to the credibility of this city in their name.

The good news is that downright lies were caught on video tape.

Before the wrecking ball can move forward however, an injunction is imminent. The demolition permit is not yet issued -- and the Minister of Education has not yet reviewed all the facts from the real community around Sanford School.

It is high time that City Manager Chris Murray and the City Council steps forward to conduct a public inquiry into the faulty 'public consultation' process leading to the perception that the local community is behind this decision - when in fact it is not.

Mahesh P. Butani


Comment edited by Mahesh_P_Butani on 2012-12-17 23:45:59

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By Gary Santucci (anonymous) | Posted December 17, 2012 at 23:41:52

Student enrolment at Cathy Wever School currently sits at 655 students(around 60% capacity) and is on a declining trajectory. The community has been mislead from the get go on the plans for Sanford Avenue School. Up until 2 years ago students attended Sanford as a holding school while other schools were being built. Tim Simmons told me that to enter the building to view it we would have to wear hazmat suits and masks because of the contamination in the building. Were the students who recently attended Sanford School and played in the gymnasium issued protective masks and suits? Tim please tell us. Did you care about the children you were putting in harm's way just a short two years ago? When you say that you see the education system through the lens of the children, it must be through the lens of a telescope far, far away! To witness first hand one of the most condescending citizen engagement smackdowns on the true issue surrounding this bogus and illegal process start the recording by Joey Coleman (many thanks to Joey)at the 9:00 minute mark to catch Tims Simmons at his "holier than thou" best routine. Thank you very much Mother Teresa!

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By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted December 17, 2012 at 23:59:03 in reply to Comment 84068

Cathy Wever Elementary School

Profile - Total number of students: (655) - Gender: Male(320); Female(335) - Primary language other than English: (123) - Students born outside of Canada: (80)* (*Calculation does not include students for whom language information is missing.)

Use, Renovation & Replacement Study Hamilton Recreation and Public-Use Facilities, Sept, 2007

Comment edited by Mahesh_P_Butani on 2012-12-18 00:04:23

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By wrecking ball (anonymous) | Posted December 18, 2012 at 12:18:56

Vote the trustees out in 2014 before they have a chance to smash any more buildings!

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By Steve (registered) | Posted December 19, 2012 at 10:26:18 in reply to Comment 84091

Easier said then done with majority of Hamiltonian's apathetic voting style.

Which as I see it seems to be as follows: I'll just vote for the person's name I recognize, if I vote at all...

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By 2bhonest (registered) | Posted December 19, 2012 at 12:39:42

Suddenly having contamination issues? Seems to be a red herring and a weak excuse to decline any debate.
An irreplaceable asset of architecture and heritage dismissed without any respect to the community or history, a call to demolish without entertaining any other solution. This is absurd.

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By PearlStreet (registered) | Posted December 19, 2012 at 23:12:08

I heard a roumer that The Lifesaver factory on Cumberland will be turning into apts/lofts with an added story. Great history too :) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HqJ2S--9I...

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By UKObserver (anonymous) | Posted January 09, 2013 at 02:17:42

Obviously no historical parallels between these two school preservation stories but interesting to note what visionary cities do with unused school buildings...


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