Stop the HWDSB Madness

By Sean Burak
Published February 01, 2012

I want to think that this entire debacle of the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board moving to a suburban head office is an April Fool's joke years in the making. To maintain my sanity, I have to hope that this is the case.

Board of Education Building, 100 Main Street West (RTH file photo)
Board of Education Building, 100 Main Street West (RTH file photo)

This is 2012. Are we really going to spend millions of dollars building a nondescript box surrounded by surface parking, with all we know about the problems with suburban development and what it's doing to all of us?

Obesity is on the rise, and we are creating a generation of sedentary citizens who are trapped in neighbourhoods that are walkability nightmares. This is really the example the HWDSB Trustees want to set? As adults? As educators?

I read with disgust the latest report from the Spectator. Dundas Trustee Jessica Brennan's statement made me particularly sick:

Frankly, I want to pack my bags and go to our new building.

As if she can't get out of here fast enough.

I run a small bicycle shop in Hamilton, and I pay over $7,000 a year in property taxes for the privilege of operating in the core.

Every day I live with the challenges of downtown Hamilton and I do my small part to solve them. I'm not the only one. The lower city is full of great people who are dedicated to Hamilton and are doing their bit to improve the core in baby steps.

Meanwhile, our own Board of Education is eager to become part of the problem instead of the solution, undoing thousands of baby steps with this giant leap backwards.

To make matters even worse, they'll do it with our hard earned dollars.

This city has seen so much lamentable destruction, it is appalling and utterly unacceptable that our educators and our local government would subsidize the destruction of a perfectly functional building.

Architecture aside, we should not be destroying any building unless it is literally falling down. We simply can't afford it.

We as a city ask people to take care of their buildings. We soft-handedly suggest that people don't neglect their property.

Now we are going to set the example that it is perfectly okay to take a structurally sound and architecturally significant building and grind it into the ground.

Do as we say, not as we do.

Now is the time for us to set an example. Please stop this madness.

Sean Burak was born in Hamilton but raised elsewhere in Ontario. He returned to his birth town at the turn of the century and has never looked back. Sean is the owner of Downtown Bike Hounds.


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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted February 01, 2012 at 09:05:11

By the way, I sent this as a letter to Matt Jelly's list:,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

And copied the councillors for good measure:,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

No replies yet...

Comment edited by seancb on 2012-02-01 09:06:02

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted February 02, 2012 at 10:17:37 in reply to Comment 73575

THe HWDSB is collecting responses via their website until Feb 23:

They list their objectives as:

  • Objective # 1 Consolidate operations, to the greatest extent possible, in a seamless place of work and learning.
  • Objective # 2 Develop a welcoming, convenient, accessible, and inclusive environment that mirrors the diverse and evolving constituencies served by the Board.
  • Objective # 3 Provide a public venue for the celebration of student, staff, and community achievements.
  • Objective # 4 Plan for the accommodation of wide-ranging learner and support services offered by the Board and community agencies.
  • Objective # 5 Demonstrate a commitment to sustainability through building design. Anticipate organizational change through flexible accommodations.
  • Objective # 6 Contribute to the vitality of the Education Centre’s surroundings and stand as a civic landmark.

My comments are as follows:

The objectives sound great! Unfortunately, your plan to move fulfills NONE of them.

  • Objective #1: Please consider consolidating your operations at the site already gifted to you by previous generations of Hamilton citizens.

  • Objective #2: A convenient, accessible and inclusive environment has to be convenient, accessible and inclusive for every citizen - not just those who drive. You need to be located within walking/transit distance of code red neighbourhoods.

  • Objective #3: A public space needs to be centrally located so that all have an equal opportunity to take advantage of it.

  • Objective #4: Again, support services are useless if the people who need them can't physically get to your space. SUpport service availability should not depend on learners having ready access to a car.

  • Objective 5: You have a functioning building that was given to you - and designed for future expansion. Using and expanding the current structure is the ONLY green solution available to you. Selling it for demolition and building a new facility is NOT green, regardless of whether you plant grass on the roof or not.

  • Objective #6: No civic landmarks in any city are located in the suburbs surrounded by asphalt parking. Your site is not even visible from the nearest major road! I can just see your website directions now... "take the linc to the mall, look on your left, we're behind the mark's work wearhouse"

There are more sections in which you can leave comments... I won't go into further detail but I'll sign off with an image which I hope motivates you to write something - this is the location they are envisioning as a civic landmark:

Education Centre

Comment edited by seancb on 2012-02-02 10:19:55

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By highwater (registered) | Posted February 02, 2012 at 14:14:13 in reply to Comment 73650

This should be highlighted as a blog entry IMO.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted February 02, 2012 at 08:34:48 in reply to Comment 73575

Still no responses...

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By MattJelly (registered) - website | Posted February 01, 2012 at 15:02:22 in reply to Comment 73575

I'd also suggest putting in a polite phone call to your local schoolboard trustee as well. Considering the lack of email response from trustees (besides Laura Peddle), maybe it's worth asking them to chat about it, or at least leave a voice mail message.

Numbers are listed for all trustees here:

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By DavidColacci (registered) | Posted February 01, 2012 at 10:07:25 in reply to Comment 73575

I heard back from only Laura Peddle.

"Good morning and thank you for writing.

I have always believed HQ belongs in the core, evidenced by my vote against the crestwood site"

Not from a Councillor, our Mayor.....or any other trustee.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted February 01, 2012 at 12:10:51 in reply to Comment 73582

I also sent a letter and only received a reply from Laura Peddle.

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By Simon (registered) - website | Posted February 01, 2012 at 10:44:23 in reply to Comment 73582

She seems to be the only board member that actually understands what the stakes are - as far as the board's headquarters and school planning - but more importantly how the board operates.

At a fundamental level - you have to seriously question the qualifications of trustees to make decisions that directly effect the big picture community planning of the entire City.

The province created the green belt and places to grow legislation to control suburban expansion because they saw that municipalities were unable/unwilling to do it on their own.

The same big picture needs to be taken with the board of education - ie decisions that effect the big picture - entire communities - should be taken out of the boards hands - because frankly - they don't seem competent enough to deal with them.

The first thing a family does when looking to buy a home - look to see where the nearest school is. Closing an existing school isn't just about enrollment - it kills the entire community. But there is enrollment available - it is just confined to the outer fringe of the suburbs - where families with school age kids buy new houses - with good neighbourhood schools. How hard would it be to require school boards to fill their existing schools before a new one is even considered? (by busing in kids from the fringes instead of the reverse).

Take a look at

See for yourself how many urban schools the board has closed and sold. Those schools - and attached green spaces are never coming back.

People complain about kids being driven to school! You try and find anywhere in the City that you can reasonably walk to an elementary school, a middle school and a highschool. Seriously - please let me know if you can find one.

This is the mentality that is driving the school board to abandon the core - why would we expect anything different. At the very lowest - they are consistent.

Comment edited by Simon on 2012-02-01 10:47:34

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 01, 2012 at 18:01:01 in reply to Comment 73584

How utterly insane is that map. And we wonder why 'code red' is code red. The school board has played a huge role in helping to create a substandard collection of neighbourhoods with much less opportunity for the next generation. Everyone should be reminded that code red residents pay just as much to this so-called education system as those who get to move out of the city and take the code red schools with them.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted February 01, 2012 at 15:13:15 in reply to Comment 73584

You try and find anywhere in the City that you can reasonably walk to an elementary school, a middle school and a highschool. Seriously - please let me know if you can find one.

In addition to the chorus of "Westdale" comments, there's also the cluster of primary/middle/secondary schools that is Westmount/Westwood/Westview (near Garth at Mohawk). That single plot of parkland contains a school for each age.

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2012-02-01 16:49:48

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted February 01, 2012 at 13:33:58 in reply to Comment 73584

Barton and Lawfield. Used to be Vern Ames, Lawfield, then Barton but Vern Ames and Lawfield were combined into a new school that already has some portables

These scenerios still exist but slowly they are being taken away and these new plans, prove to eliminate them totally. I understand why parents home school or send them to private schools.

As taxpayers, we simply don't have much say. I don't agree with one single closure. Time for adaptive re-use.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted February 01, 2012 at 13:18:05 in reply to Comment 73584

You try and find anywhere in the City that you can reasonably walk to an elementary school, a middle school and a highschool. Seriously - please let me know if you can find one.

Well, Westdale.

Or Ainslie Wood West if you're RC. Or Ainslie Wood East for Orthodox Jews.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted February 01, 2012 at 13:32:54 in reply to Comment 73604

Yes, in fact Westdale was specifically designed as an 'education community', with schools as key anchors in walkable radii. With the coming of McMaster, and a number of pre-schools, we pretty much have cradle to grave walkable education. Naturally the HWDSB must put a stop to this.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted February 01, 2012 at 10:48:05 in reply to Comment 73584

I did actually get a reply - from Laura Peddle as well. But she only asked me if anyone else replied.

As I said to her - if not a single person on that extensive contact list understands the problem enough to even offer a reply, then we are in worse trouble than I thought.

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By DavidColacci (registered) | Posted February 01, 2012 at 11:30:38 in reply to Comment 73585

Now that scares me.

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By Lettie (registered) | Posted February 01, 2012 at 09:34:13

I live in the core in a condo downtown and my property taxes are higher here than up the mountain 2K away where I actually had land and a house and didn't live in the air. How fair is that? What are we actually getting to live in the core? We are hoping for a more livable downtown. Let's get some development and people down here. We can work together.

Much as I really like the green space and the architecture of the Board building I think the medical centre will be more useful downtown. It is too bad the Board building could not have been incorporated in the design. But the medical centre at in the Innovation Park idea was dumb, not near enough to the users. That is not a central location for the services being proposed.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted February 01, 2012 at 09:59:08 in reply to Comment 73576

We have plenty of empty lots already. Let's use it. It's not that "the Board building could not have been incorporated in the design" it's that no one wanted to try...

Again - architecture is nice and all, but just as I said about the federal building, the problem is not a heritage one. It's simply about the inefficiency of tearing down functional buildings (especially ones that taxpayers originally bought )in order to build new ones (on taxpayers' dimes again).

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By bpotstra (registered) | Posted February 01, 2012 at 09:36:37

There are SO many parking lots downtown Hamilton... WHY do we need to demolish a lovely building when we could use some vacant space for it? I'm not opposed at all to having a Medical Center downtown, but why not the empty space beside the Pigott? Why not the parking lot beside AGH and the current board building?

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By highwater (registered) | Posted February 01, 2012 at 12:24:34 in reply to Comment 73577

There are foundations under that parking lot built in anticipation of the future need for a second tower. But that would cut into their precious parking doncha know. It sickens me the way it keeps coming down to parking.

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By arienc (registered) | Posted February 01, 2012 at 09:37:07

Architecture aside, we should not be destroying any building unless it is literally falling down. We simply can't afford it.

This is the most clear and succinct argument yet. Well-stated.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted February 01, 2012 at 15:16:44 in reply to Comment 73578

The obvious solution to this problem is to neglect the buildings until they are literally falling down.

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By Knock Knock (anonymous) | Posted February 01, 2012 at 09:43:20


NDP Hamilton Centre activist Robert Barlow
NDP ADFW federal/provincial candidate Jessica Brennan (1997; 1998, 2000)
NDP ADFW federal candidate Alex Johnstone (2010)
NDP HESC provincial riding ass'n president Tim Simmons
NDP HESC provincial riding ass'n past president Todd White

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By jones (anonymous) | Posted February 01, 2012 at 10:26:16 in reply to Comment 73579

The NDP only cares about what the union cares about.

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By MattJelly (registered) - website | Posted February 01, 2012 at 14:07:07 in reply to Comment 73583

While I don't have a party membership, I typically vote NDP and as some might know, I considered a run for the provincial party not long ago. I have my reasons to vote NDP. But I'm not blinded by party colours- these NDP-affiliated trustees are simply wrong on this issue.

They voted for a car-centric location for the board, and decided to let a perfectly reusable building be demolished without a clear rationale for doing so. I don't care what party they say they belong to, this plan is simply not progressive.

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By jones (anonymous) | Posted February 01, 2012 at 18:20:12 in reply to Comment 73611

'progressive' is just a label. They have competing priorities like any other party. You can tell which is favoured when they come into conflict. So school boards have a budget, they have to divide it between capital and operating, largely salaries. You have competing priorities. You're NDP you want to get the best deal for labour. You avert strikes and give fat increases. So how do you make budget? You save on capital. You close schools. You amalgamate and increase class sizes. Don't think for a second they don't understand the effect this has on communities, they simply don't care enough.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted February 01, 2012 at 11:14:39 in reply to Comment 73583

It's probably a little deeper that than. The NDP has liberal, progressive, collectivist foundations. And we are talking about conserving a distinct piece of architecture.

I hope I don't sound all Ayn Randy here, but good architecture and socialism were at war for most of the 20th century. And socially progressive motives and good architecture are only just coming to speaking terms well into the post-modern era.

And, no, I'm not joking: I believe that people's philosophy and their politics and their aesthetics correlate to some degree.

Architecture is political. And both architecture and politics ultimately come down to one's notion of the Good Life, whether one has articulated the Good Life in philosophical terms or not.

Comment edited by moylek on 2012-02-01 11:22:48

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By Deckchairs (anonymous) | Posted February 01, 2012 at 10:01:19

Sean Burak: "Now we are going to set the example that it is perfectly okay to take a structurally sound and architecturally significant building and grind it into the ground."

Jeff Green: "Days after Judith Bishop stepped down as chair of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, fellow trustees acknowledged the year she had would grind down just about anyone."

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By Thinking Critically (anonymous) | Posted February 01, 2012 at 11:57:21

I will agree that useful buildings should not be torn down. I will try to make this statement objective, as opposed to subjective, by that I am qualifying useful buildings as appropriate in their size/shape relating to their location and intended use. (I will not comment on the architectural/heritage merit of the building as this is somewhat more subjective) If this building no longer suited the owner's use, then it should reasonably be changed. That is not to say it could not be sold, or renovated to improve it's functionality. Perhaps this is a case of the round peg fitting into the square hole - it fits, but if you look on the other side, the appropriate [location] can be found. (note: I do not equate looking on the other side to suburban development)

However, I will put forward a second statement that the School Board building seems to be one of unique uses and functions in its present design configuration. Meaning that any future owners/users would need to have very similar corporate structure and needs to make use of the building without major renovations. Simply put, the current building if not undersized, is currently not making effective use of its floor plate, and is not living up to its potential based on it's location. I concede that urban greenspace is not to be taken for granted, but City Hall's larger greenspace across the road trumps the School Board's - pleasant as it may be. Perhaps a larger building or series of buildings with more street presence would better realize this location's potential.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted February 01, 2012 at 12:39:55 in reply to Comment 73593

I concede that urban greenspace is not to be taken for granted,

Are there people who are really worried about the urban greenspace at Bay and King? With Gore Park a block away?

The greenspace in front of the board building is meagre and functionless: you can't pass through it, it doesn't invite you in; it doesn't even look especially nice.

A bit of lawn and tress is pretty much the last thing we should be worrying about in Hamilton, with our downtown hedged in by a waterfront park and the escarpment and Gore Park right at the heart.

But the building - it's a gem in the way that yet another glass-walled early 21st century building is all but bound not to be.

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By H+H (registered) - website | Posted February 01, 2012 at 18:52:01 in reply to Comment 73598

@moylek - I agree that the current green space is not inviting, but that doesn't mean it couldn't be. Nor does it mean it shouldn't be. I love urban settings. I love high density. Having said that, set backs were part of the vision for this period of building/architecture.

Even if that isn't of interest, properly landscaped open plazas at both our City Hall and our Education Centre, or whatever it becomes next, is not a bad thing. I take you point about Gore Park, but this urban green space exists now. Barren, open space (a la parking lots) doesn't contribute beauty to any city. But well designed, and well-used, public green space does. I say keep it and make it friendlier to the public. Besides, are we to believe that a family medical centre shouldn't have green space? Really?

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By lettie (registered) | Posted February 01, 2012 at 13:17:36 in reply to Comment 73598

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

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted February 02, 2012 at 08:33:34 in reply to Comment 73603

lettie for mayor!

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By highwater (registered) | Posted February 01, 2012 at 12:42:47

FWIW, here is the text of my letter:

I am writing to you today to plead with you to show the same leadership shown by your predecessors in the 1960's when the board made the decision to build your iconic building downtown. Staying downtown and preserving this beautiful building are as important today as they were then, and for all the same reasons.

I have three children in three public schools in Hamilton. It concerns me greatly that I have entrusted their education to an institution that is poised to make such a regressive move as demolishing a beautiful, perfectly sound, building that was a gift to you by the citizens of this city and province, and plays a critical, iconic role in the life of the civic heart of our city, and moving to an insular campus in a residential neighbourhood that is accessible only by car.

The optics of distancing yourselves from our Code Red neighbourhoods, and ensuring that parents who either can't afford or choose not own cars can no longer participate fully in the governance of and educational opportunities provided by the board are disturbing, and fly in the face of your mandate to increase parent engagement, particularly when these same parents are being asked to spend their tax dollars so staff can have the privilege of free parking at their new campus.

Making this move in an age when the social, economic, and environmental benefits of curbing sprawl, promoting public and active transportation, and repurposing heritage architecture have become so clear, is a shocking abdication of the crucial role education plays in the life of a community.

I would like to believe that my children are being educated by people with a firm knowledge of the issues of social, economic, and environmental sustainability that our children will be facing in the future. Demolishing a beautiful, sound building and consigning it to landfill, and building an insular, car dependent campus in an inaccessible residential neighbourhood, is a perfect example of the kind of unsustainable planning policies that cities across North America are rejecting. If this decision is allowed to stand, the folly of it will quickly become be evident in the next 5 to 10 years.

I am worried about my children's future, I am worried about my city's future, and I am worried about the damage this decision will do to the board's credibility, and its ability to positively influence social and education policy in this city. Please show us that you are still interested in being a strong partner in the life of this city by staying at the heart of our civic centre, instead of fleeing to the comfort and safety of an inaccessible residential neighbourhood.

Thank you for your consideration.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted February 01, 2012 at 12:45:47 in reply to Comment 73599

As I mentioned, Laura Peddle was the only one who responded. I replied to her with these additional thoughts:

Another issue that occurred to me after I sent my previous email is how this decision will affect the board's ability to attract the best talent in the future.

Let's face it. Most of your staff and trustees are baby boomers, as am I. We are the last generation for whom driving will be the norm, and I think much of the push to move to a car-based campus is based on assumptions that our current car culture will continue in perpetuity.

The fact is, fewer and fewer younger people are choosing to own cars, and even the percentage of teenagers getting their licenses is dropping off. A large percentage of our future work force will not only not own cars, but may not even drive.

Recent graduates are also burdened with levels of student debt that us boomers never had to contend with. It's very unfair to make car ownership a condition of employment at the board for younger people, particularly when the cost of fuel, insurance, etc. is only going to rise.

Young people are increasingly making career choices based on quality of life. If the trend among younger workers for urban, car-less living continues, the board will have a much harder time attracting the best and the brightest when the current crop of baby boomers starts to retire.

This is a bad decision on so many levels. Apart from short term finances and free parking for staff, I'm having trouble seeing the positives.

Thank you for your reply and your efforts.

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By Basil (anonymous) | Posted February 02, 2012 at 08:49:59 in reply to Comment 73600

Not to rationalize their choice, but car-centric thinking is pretty engrained across the city. Downtown workers are not significantly different.

"One quarter of Downtown workers use
public transit, walk or bike to work."

In other words, 75% of downtown workers drive to work.

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 02, 2012 at 10:38:07 in reply to Comment 73641

believe it or not, that number is way higher than anywhere else in the city. 25% is actually quite good considering how car-centric downtown's transportation network is. Imagine what we could do with sidewalks wider than 3 feet and the odd bike lane instead of 5-lane freeways criss-crossing the core?

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted February 02, 2012 at 11:39:07 in reply to Comment 73651

Here's my question: Why would we force non car users to endure over an hour bus from lower hamilton to the new headquarters rather than put it closer to those without cars? Especially considering you can get to main and bay from just about anywher ein the city via car in under 20 minutes? Why are we catering to those who already have access to the most convenient form of transportation? It's nonsensical.

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By Basil (anonymous) | Posted February 02, 2012 at 13:28:07 in reply to Comment 73656

Next thing you know, they'll be concentrating retail and residential development on the mountain as well.

Has anyone mapped out how far Mohawk & Upper Wentworth will be from major populations within Hamilton, and whether this location is more or less convenient for the average Hamiltonian?

Wards 7-9, 11, 12 seem like they have been undergoing considerable growth in recent years, while Wards 1-5 have been fairly stagnant.

More to the point, perhaps, Wards 6-8 are home to the most engaged voters in the city, delivering about twice the turnout of Wards 1-3, on average, over the last three elections.

Could it be that city politicians respond to engaged taxpayers (to say nothing of developers)?

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By concentrate on this (anonymous) | Posted February 02, 2012 at 13:35:38 in reply to Comment 73659

Nothing on the mountain is concentrated. That is precisely the problem.

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By Basil (anonymous) | Posted February 02, 2012 at 15:34:58 in reply to Comment 73660

Poor choice of words on my part.

Maybe "locating" was what I should've written.

For example, in 2006, Wards 6/7/8 had 4,000 more dwellings than Wards 1/2/3.

As well, census data related to people-per-dwelling suggests that children might be marginally more prevalent outside of the downtown.

Underline "might." Not that it necessessarily means anything.

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By Basil (anonymous) | Posted February 02, 2012 at 15:36:01 in reply to Comment 73667

Underline "necessessarily." ;)

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By H+H (registered) - website | Posted February 01, 2012 at 18:57:03

For an organization that already owns a remarkable inventory of architect-designed structures around the city, it's pretty damning that the first and only vision the HWDSB has for any of them is to demolish, or sell to demolish. Yes, there are a few examples of adaptive re-use by enlightened developers (Allenby Lofts, Stinson condos), but the Board seemingly never considers adaptive re-use for themselves.

When I asked Board officials at their Open House why they didn't consider adaptive re-use of the Crestwood School, they said it was in bad shape. They might be correct, but they are the original and current owners. What does that tell you about stewardship? What does tearing it down say about the Board's environmental stewardship?

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By taylormade r11 driver (anonymous) | Posted February 01, 2012 at 20:06:12

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taylormade r11 driverouth side of the lake. In Puno we had thought, “hey, it’s a big lake, big whoop?” Turns out it can be pretty beautiful, especially once you get the view of the snow-covered peaks as a backdrop to the monstrous body of water. At points the landscapes really are marvelous. Also, we have now entered the territory of the Aymara-speaking indigenou
titleist 910D3s people and have left Quechua-speaking country.The only part of the journey that ground the hell out of my gears was the entrance into Bolivia. Now, I am not one who really likes to complain too much and I do have pretty thick skin, but the guys who were working on the 24th in the Bolivian migration office treated me like gartitleist 910D2bage. Matt had went in first, and because there is not too much bad blood between Bolivia and Canada, he did not need to worry about the $135 fee for the visa, or the abuse and hassle some of the agents apparently like to provide Americans with. He came out after a few minutes with a freshly stamped passport and told me the guys

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By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted February 01, 2012 at 20:38:23

Why Crestwood? Could they have built the new center at the closed Gibson school? Too ghetto for them I guess. Lots of city parking (revenue!) across the street at Birch and Barton. A nice little daycare for the parents across the street as well.

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By TnT (registered) | Posted February 02, 2012 at 09:47:27

When I moved into my current home on Cannon St. One of the things that impressed me in the area was a beautiful school Tweedsmuir at Wilson and Victoria. It was next to a large park Beemer. I thought wow. How impressive a building, no matter what happens this amazing building will always contribute to the area. That was my first awareness of a lack of respect by the city of it's own buildings. So how can we in good conscience stick it to Vrancor and the speculators when we did that to both ward 3 and Hamilton?

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