Special Report: Heritage

Act Now to Save Parkside High School From Demolition

Parkside is still standing. No contracts have yet been awarded. If enough people are against the decision to demolish Parkside, the City of Hamilton will need to reconsider.

By Shannon Kyles
Published September 27, 2016

Parkside High School, Dundas
Parkside High School, Dundas

In 1960, Parkside High School won both National and International awards for design and innovative use of materials. The swooping curve of the entrance was created by precast concrete panels with exposed stone. This had not been done before. In the entrance were footlights embedded in the floor. This is now considered cutting edge design.

As the BBC, CBC and Netflix producers send their locations managers out to find cool Mid-century modern sets, Dundas has decided to tear its best Mid-century monument down and replace it with who knows.

There has been much discussion about the future of the school and property over the past ten years but I believe that the citizens of greater Dundas were not involved. Only property owners in the few blocks closest to the school were consulted on their views concerning the school's future.

Dundas Works proposed a plan for the adaptive reuse of the school but this was rejected by council. The property will be kept as a green space with some residential. A local cemetery will be expanded into a portion of the land.

Is anyone really naive enough to believe that? The first change in government and that land will be repurposed for multiple housing.

Dundas is already being hammered to add more residential units. The citizens of Dundas are going to be fighting an expensive battle to keep the town a walkable, livable space, as can be seen by the recent kerfuffle over 71 Main Street.

Adaptive Reuse

A large, architecturally significant building already exists in a wonderful setting, with loads of green space and not imposing on any existing vistas or streetscapes. Do we really want to tear it down and keep fighting off developers who will certainly not stop trying to make Dundas a high-rise hell?

Kudos to the councillors for having the City of Hamilton buy Parkside, stopping open bidding for the property, which would undoubtedly have ended up badly. Now the next step needs to be reconsidered.

The City of Hamilton purchased the school and property on April 22, 2016. Two months later this fabulous school was slated to be demolished.

The tenders for demolition will be accepted by the city on or before Thursday, September 29, 2016. What is the hurry? One opponent of the demolition stated that it was "an indecent rush to destruction." I couldn't agree more.

The demolition of Parkside High school will take place over a period of ten months. Then residential development will take another three or four, maybe five years.

Would it not be simpler and more valuable just to convert the existing building to condos? The cinder block walls could easily support an upper story that could be reserved for luxury condominiums. The existing floors could be converted into small (one classroom) units or larger (2 classroom) units.

This would follow the current mix of blue-collar, white-collar and professionals found on any street in town.

Great cities do not demolish great buildings. The greenest building is the one that is already there.

Precedent for School Conversion

There is a precedent for school/residential conversion. Dundas District Lofts, for example, that sold for $375,00.00 five years ago and are selling for $850,000.00 now, are functional while preserving the integrity of the neighborhood.

District Lofts, Dundas (RTH file photo)
District Lofts, Dundas (RTH file photo)

Similar re-purposing has been done in factories, mills and civic buildings. All of these projects preserve the cultural heritage of the site while providing the required occupancy.

This has been happening for centuries. If the citizens of the middle ages had torn down the Roman Triumphal arch in Orange or the Roman Amphitheatre in Arles rather than boarding them off into residential units and living in them, these structures would not be tourist destinations today.

Despite the fact that population growth in Dundas has outpaced growth in other communities, Dundas is going to have to accept some population increase. While this is happening, the citizens are going to need to pay attention.

In a recent advertising video, Hamilton ad people included in their imagery shots of the Lister Block, the Pigott Building, Whitehern, the Old Pump House and almost every other architectural monument now symbolic of Hamilton's cultural heritage.

Every one of these buildings was once under threat of full or partial demolition. In each case, individuals and groups got together to save them.

Save Parkside

Now it is our turn to save Parkside. Parkside is still standing. No contracts have yet been awarded. If enough people are against the decision to demolish Parkside, the City of Hamilton will need to reconsider.

If you did not know what was happening but think the decision to demolish should at least be reconsidered, please cast your vote for the petition to stop the demolition:

Shannon Kyles runs ontarioarchitecture.com, is an executive member of Architectural Conservancy of Ontario, has taught History of Architecture at Mohawk College for 32 years, does the architecture column on CBC's Fresh Air and has written for Arabella and Acrorn magazines.

5 Comments

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By NortheastWind (registered) | Posted September 27, 2016 at 12:26:19

"A local cemetery will be expanded into a portion of the land. Is anyone really naive enough to believe that? The first change in government and that land will be repurposed for multiple housing."

The city has had a pretty good track record of purchasing schools to maintain green space. Yes some of the purchased land has been sold for housing, but green space is kept. Plus there's nothing significant about the architecture other than the entrance, which is nice, but the rest is just a box. Nothing special for re-purposing.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted September 27, 2016 at 19:03:50 in reply to Comment 120143

I believe most of the school's green space already belongs to the City. Parkside backs on to the Dundas Driving Park. My understanding was that the building is being torn down, another smaller one will go up, and the rest is to be used as a cemetery.

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By RobF (registered) | Posted September 27, 2016 at 15:53:48

Every one of these buildings was once under threat of full or partial demolition. In each case, individuals and groups got together to save them.

Yep, because buildings become just "old" before being valued as historic and worthy of heritage preservation. Modernist buildings, especially schools and civic buildings from the 1950s and 1960s, are undervalued for a bunch of reasons, but mainly its because they are still relatively common place.

Assuming an imaginative retrofit were to happen, 20 years from now people will appreciate the foresight of those who cared enough to at least suggest it was possible.

Northeastwind: most buildings are just boxes ... modernists were just more honest in not hiding it with ornamentation. The real question is the embedded carbon footprint and whether the building is structurally sound and suited to a retrofit ...

Comment edited by RobF on 2016-09-27 15:56:29

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted September 27, 2016 at 19:16:53

Dundas is already being hammered to add more residential units. The citizens of Dundas are going to be fighting an expensive battle to keep the town a walkable, livable space, as can be seen by the recent kerfuffle over 71 Main Street.

I don't understand this. High density is necessary in order to be a walkable, livable city. An excellent example of a walkable, livable city is the Island of Manhattan or the car-free Utrecht city centre. Dundas is nowhere near that level of density yet.

Please see this video to see a far higher density, and yet much more attractive, safe and pleasant place to live than the current situation in Dundas.

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted September 28, 2016 at 08:07:45 in reply to Comment 120146

yea, I don't think anyone should give the NIMBY's in Dundas a pass in the name of 'preserving' their town. They need more mid-rise building and mixed use street fronts, not less. The whole reason this cemetery idea came to be in the first place was because local residents didn't want to run the risk of a housing project being built that had any % of units being deemed affordable.

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