School Board Eager to Demolish Another Architecturally Significant Building

By Ryan McGreal
Published November 23, 2012

Just in case you weren't already exasperated enough with the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB), Paul Wilson of CBC Hamilton reports that the Board is in a hurry to demolish Sanford Avenue School, a large, beautiful three-storey building that opened in 1932.

Like so many things related to the HWDSB, the story is convoluted and straight answers are few and far between:

Last week, in Room 264 at City Hall, the Heritage Committee looked for ways to save Sanford Avenue school, a handsome 80-year-old structure nearly as long as a football field.

But now it turns out the school board has already filed a request to demolish the building. And unless something changes in a hurry, the board will get that permission fast.

At that Heritage meeting on Thursday of last week, several staffers from the city's building department told the committee that demolition requests have to be processed within 10 days.

And as long as the application is complete, that request is almost always granted. The building officials said no application had been received for Sanford school.

Councillor Brian McHattie then got a motion passed to "register" the school under the Heritage act. If council endorsed that move, it would provide a 60-day protection from demolition.

But yesterday McHattie got word that - contrary to what building officials stated last week - the school board applied on Nov. 13 to demolish the school, two days before the heritage meeting.

Never mind that Mission Services and two developers with experience restoring old buildings are interested in looking into Sanford School, and never mind that one of the proposed uses of the land is to expand a next-door recreation centre. Wilson notes, "there's been no expressions-of-interest process to air those options."

Once again, the Board's lack of respect for architectural heritage, time for community engagement and sheer imagination threatens to leave a hollow in the heart of a vulnerable community. Let's hope saner heads prevail and put the brakes on the demolition process before the building is gone for good.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By jason (registered) | Posted November 23, 2012 at 13:13:15

It was recently suggested that the Board have LESS public input. How much less can they have??

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By rednic (registered) | Posted November 24, 2012 at 06:26:34

Does someone the school board have an interest in a demolition company ?

If our educators can't grasp the importance of history what hope do children have of picking it up.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 24, 2012 at 09:22:13

This is one of the most stunning buildings in the city, in a perfect hood for new residential development as downtown's redevelopment slowly spreads east. There are two parks within a couple minute walk of this site. Pinky Lewis can easily be expanded without encroaching on this building. It's completely unnecessary.

And the 11th hour talk is bunk. I'm personally aware of 2 developers who approached the board back in the spring and summer to try to buy this, and were told 'it's not for sale'.

So far Morelli has helped kill the seniors condo project and restoration of historic church at Main and Balsam. Helped run out a school of naturopathy that wanted to locate in one of the empty schools in ward 3. Almost lost the Hamilton Guest House and Pearl Company. When does someone at city hall stand up to someone who is actively blocking development all through their ward? Meanwhile, crack-houses and flop houses are as plentiful as ever. Now we've got developers asking for months and months to buy this place but he wants another seniors centre?? And he wants one at the stadium?? But he blocked one at Main and Balsam?? Sounds to me like it has nothing to do with wanting a seniors centre and simply favouring certain people over others.

FYI, for those who don't know, here is the condo project that was denied at city hall. It's the top one called 'Main St condos':

More info:

The developers were going to save the old church for a seniors centre, even though it's not designated. They are the same builders who saved the Strathcona firehall and added a seniors condo next to it. So, we denied seniors housing and seniors centre, and now want to look for other locations in the ward for both?? Ward 3, please elect a leader in 2 years. Enough is enough.

Comment edited by jason on 2012-11-24 10:55:33

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By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted November 24, 2012 at 15:42:55 in reply to Comment 83164

Agreed but lets be careful about who! Matt Jelley for Ward 3!

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By DollHouse (anonymous) | Posted November 24, 2012 at 16:32:57

The blame here resides with HWDSB and should not be dumped at Mr Morellis door. He has been working with many groups of investors in his ward to improve it.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 24, 2012 at 16:39:35 in reply to Comment 83169

HWDSB is absolutely to blame with Sanford, and their general disregard for our oldest neighbourhoods. But there are many developments that have been chased out of Ward 3, instead of assisted. Plenty of blame to go around.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted November 24, 2012 at 20:52:33

The only well-maintained publicly-owned century-buildings are the schools. While the municipality knocked down so many of Hamilton's greats during the crazyness of the '50s and '60s, the board took care of those structures. Look at a list of the schools of the lower city and you'll see many of the most beautiful old buildings in the city. Now, after decades upon decades of maintenance, they want to throw all that away. On one hand, I do have some sympathy for a school board that is effectively saddled with a massive inventory of white elephants. On the other hand, what kind of guy looks at a beautiful, fully functional structure like that and says "let's knock that down".

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2012-11-24 20:54:31

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By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted November 24, 2012 at 23:05:24

"It remains in the best interest of the Board, students and community ratepayers to achieve the maximum return for surplus properties, while recognizing the need to maintain community involvement throughout the disposition process."

The above is from the Property Disposition Protocol Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board.

This protocol lays down the following "Guiding Principles":

The Property Disposition Protocol has been developed with an aim to ensure:

  1. that Trustee fiduciary responsibility and effective public sector governance is clearly demonstrated when disposing of Board entrusted property assets;
  2. full compliance with all Legislative and Regulatory requirements; and,
  3. direction and decisions are clearly articulated in a timely fashion with the City of Hamilton and the Community at large; and,
  4. open and timely communication

and, "In order to provide a pre-consultation opportunity with the City of Hamilton and --local communities-- the disposition protocol has been assembled in three phases":

  1. Pre-Consultation Process - (Pre Ont. Reg. 444)
  2. Engagement of Ont. Reg. 444
  3. Disposition - (Post Ont. Reg. 444)

Further also see: Terms of Reference for the School Board Properties Sub-Committee, PED12135 from August 13, 2012

A similar protocol exists for the 'Disposition of any Surplus Lands' by all Colleges & Universities in Ontario - which was also clearly violated in the sale of the adjoining Mohawk campus to Mission Services.

The abject failure of the Eisenberger administration to foresee the immense benefits in promptly creating a neighbourhood plan for these lands -- back when Mohawk first declared its old campus adjoining the Sanford School surplus, has directly led to a massive loss of economic opportunity in Ward 3 and paved the way for the demolition of the Sanford School.

These lands could have become the symbol of Ward 3 rejuvenation with proper planning - instead they were allowed to go to seed for many years, and then scavenged by parochial interests for self-serving needs.

From becoming a prime example of best practice in redeveloping neighbourhoods and creating new assessment revenues, the political and pseudo-religious forces that converged around these vacant properties are ensuring that Ward 3 continues to remain a polarized and struggling community.

The failure of the City planning department in recognizing the strategic importance of this large parcel of land (between Wentworth & Sanford) for the economic well-being of Ward 3, has led to their faulty thinking about this neighborhood - and which is now facilitating the destruction of a perfectly healthy and historically significant building.

The mindless loss of the adjoining old campus of Mohawk College to Mission Service's highly dubious public use was equally damaging, as is the decision to tear down Sanford school.

The incontrovertible fact is that the Ward Councillor and Planning Staff will be hard pressed to prove that any transparent 'public consultation' (as mandated by the protocol for dispossession of surplus property), was ever undertaken to arrive at their preferred choice for tearing down this building.

This visible lack of public consultation and due process** for the disposition of surplus lands / demolition of the Sanford School building is in direct violation of Education Act, Ontario regulation 444/98.

Pointing out this grave lapse of process to the Minister of Education (or informing the office of the Ontario Ombudsman in case there is no response from the Minister) may be the only way to stop this madness!

The shameful charade involving a handful of motivated participants from the so called Wever Hub who acted one evening last November, as surrogates for the actual invested residents living in the neighbourhood (who were never invited to this critical meeting), to rush thru an acceptance for tearing down the Sanford School -- does in no way constitute a formal public consultation process. Those involved in this charade last November should hang their heads in shame for empowering those who are interested in tearing this building down, and for misrepresenting the entire local community's needs and aspirations.

Mahesh P. Butani

** Note From Above Protocol:

Public Notice:

The aims of a joint City of Hamilton and Board pre-consultation process are to:

  • meet a public and stakeholder expectations of helping to shape future development on lands of interest to them;
  • keep the community better informed about what might be undertaken on surplus Board lands;
  • uncover issues of concern and act as an ‘early warning system’ for the Board; and,
  • minimize disruption to and time spent on the formal rezoning/ applications

To this end, Administration will conduct the following public process:

  • In addition to posting a “Notice of Intent” to sell school lands’ on the Board’s web site, Administration will provide advanced public notice to known interested parties and residents in the vicinity of the site to indicate that the site is surplus, and that an appropriate after use is being sought. This advance notice will be issued 90 days prior to the Board’s motion to declare the property surplus and commencing Ont. Reg. 444 (the formal 90-day preferred agency process).

  • The public will also be invited to a meeting to seek input on the appropriate after-use of the site and the potential for re-use of any existing buildings. Administration will explain the reason for the disposition, the legal requirements under Ont. Reg. 444 including the respective roles of key players in the process including the City of Hamilton as a preferred agency, Administrations desired intended planning use of the property and the Board’s legal requirements relating to proceeds from disposition.

  • It is to be emphasized to the general public and the City of Hamilton that all disposition of Board property must be at ‘fair market value.’ This is both a regulatory requirement and a strategic imperative. Property is a tremendous Board asset — revenues from the sale of such enter the Capital Reserve accounts and are relied upon to support capital priorities and site acquisitions.

Phase 3 - Post Ont. Reg. 444 Circulation - Administrative Process: If the Board does not receive an Offer to Purchase from a body to which a proposal was issued before the expiration of the 90day period, Administration will proceed to carry out the necessary actions required in order to implement surplus lands disposition recommendations as directed by Board. When disposing of surplus property - Administration may:

  • Undertake a public tendering bid process
  • Receive offers to purchase
  • Publicly advertise and negotiate a sale
  • Engage a professional Real Estate firm to sell on behalf of the Board
  • Transact with an individual purchaser (single source purchaser) when dealing with a unique set of land or development circumstances involving relatively minimal land sizes

Comment edited by Mahesh_P_Butani on 2012-11-25 00:42:48

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By Chris Cutler (anonymous) | Posted December 04, 2012 at 15:01:22 in reply to Comment 83178

There is much I could write to reply to this post. I will simply state that based upon the final paragraph alone Mr Butani owes the members of the Wever Hub an apology. Regrettably knowing Mr Butani as I do he will be incapable of managing one not withstanding the errors of his post

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By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted December 06, 2012 at 10:28:06 in reply to Comment 83450

Chris Cutler:

Regrettably, you were absent from the last November meeting which was called at the WeverHub to introduce Mission Services to the Sanford/Wever neighbourhood home owners.

I was present at this meeting, along with more than 30 local home owners of diverse ethnicities, most of whom have been living in this neighbourhood for many years, and some for over three decades.

Unlike you, I witnessed first-hand the abusive behaviour of some members of the so called WeverHub -- whose existence, role and affairs, not one of the 30+ home owners knew anything about! Yet they all live not more than a street or two away from the Wever School/Mission Services building.

To their surprise and dismay, these 30+ neighbours were told that this so called "WeverHub" represented their interests, and it clearly appeared that they were according a very warm welcome to Mission Services, without the local neighbours/home owners knowledge or broad concurrence.

These large group of neighbourhood home owners had come to the meeting solely to seek answers as to how such a major change of use of a public building was allowed to occur without a transparent "public consultation" by Mohawk/Mission Services.

Instead of getting answers the 30+ home owners were shouted down and made to feel like outsiders in their own community by a bunch of individuals from the WeverHub - who talked and behaved like they were the representatives of the neighbourhood - when in fact no public process was ever undertaken by the neighbourhood or the city to organize and legitimize a neighbourhood association for this area.

I distinctly remember a 70+ year home owner had tears in his eyes, while another elderly lady was so upset that she got up and left the meeting.

On being told that time was up for questions by someone from the WeverHub, we were rudely rushed into leaving the meeting, as they had a pre scheduled WeverHub meeting to conduct. The school principal was present and I exchanged a few words with her on the way out in order to understand the unfathomably behaviour of those present in her school that evening. She was in a rush to get to the second meeting, and hence nothing was clarified.

As it turns out -- the second meeting after all the home owners in the neighbourood departed, was about city staff presenting to the WeverHub members, their final plans for replacing the Sanford School with a soccer field!!

The home owners in the neighbourhood were told to leave the meeting, so who exactly remained in the room for the second more critical meeting concerning the tearing down of a school building? And who gave the go ahead for the school to be torn down?

So Mr. Chris Cutler, before another heritage worthy building in our city falls victim to 'manipulated public consultation' and the ensuing 'public posturing', I sincerely request you to examine the dubious role played by the WeverHub in mis-representing the local community, solely upon which now stands the Board of Education's decision to tear down the Sanford School.

Blaming the BoED, its Chair or the local Councillor will not cut it any longer -- for, it was the WeverHub (for reasons which it alone knows) that gave them the totally unwarranted impression of a "broad community approval" to tear down a perfectly healthy building.

One can re-write history, but one cannot change the facts of last November's meeting where a large cross-section of the local community witnessed this charade first-hand.

While no doubt that WeverHub has actually been doing some fine work with kids programs, but in doing what it has done in its zeal to tear down a historically significant building, it has set an extremely poor example in civic duty for those very kids it professes to help so much.

Truth does hurt, and my apologies for any pain this has caused you or your organization, which is in serious need of fresh, innovative 'executive committee members' who represent the true cultural diversity of the neighborhood, and who truly believe in democratic principles and transparency of conduct.

This may be the only way WeverHub can make amends with the local community it has deeply hurt in its blind pursuit of growth by any means necessary.

It is for the funding agencies that empower organizations such as the WeverHub to ensure that such travesties do not occur again in the name of helping underprivileged kids.

Mahesh P. Butani

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By DollHouse (anonymous) | Posted November 25, 2012 at 01:56:49

The reality is that these Wever Hub people are actually vested parents and teachers from Ward 3 and not a hate filled blowhard who doesn't even live in the ward. (Not naming names).

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By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted December 06, 2012 at 11:10:24 in reply to Comment 83179

No Miss Doll, the truth is that the WeverHub people (and by default their funding agencies) are not vested parents and teachers from Ward 3 -- for they have unilaterally - without broad community consultation gone ahead and endorsed a regional DETOX centre to be created right across the very school they claim to be expanding for their vulnerable kids.

In exchange for annual Christmas hampers, they chose last year to allow hundreds of drug addicts from various communities across the region/province to come to the Sanford/Wever neighbourhood for treatment.

A neighbourhood that was almost on the verge of healing itself after decades of systemic neglect surely did not deserve a "Detox Mall" within its midsts.

If the WeverHub people had the welfare and progress of Kids in mind - they would have consulted the broad community first, before committing such a dastardly unilateral act on the neighbourhood.

Caught like a deer in headlights, the WeverHub people are back peddling furiously and are now claiming that they do not represent the neighbourhood.

Well, their continuing unilateral and totally self-centered support for the tearing down of the Sanford School - exposes their double-speak.

The lack of a basket ball court or a soccer field will not harm these underprivileged kids as much as the lack of principles displayed by the WeverHub people to subvert a community's will.

Mahesh P. Butani

note: 2011-2013 Community Accountability Planning, City of Hamilton

Comment edited by Mahesh_P_Butani on 2012-12-06 11:28:38

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By Barton & Sanford (anonymous) | Posted November 26, 2012 at 09:34:48 in reply to Comment 83179

We live beside Sanford Avenue School and we were never consulted or notified by Wever Hub. Does the fact our child does not go to Wever School mean that our voice does not matter in this?

It's an old political trick to cherry pick members of the community to give you the feedback you want to go ahead with a certain decision. Obviously neglect, poor planning and poor stewardship by the local councillor has led to this situation.

However, if you like to argue that who was here first and longest in Ward 3 is the most entitled to decide this matter then ok - Sanford Avenue School was here first so should stay. Maybe use this opportunity to build a better rec centre and a park with the money you make selling the property to developers.

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By Chris Cutler (anonymous) | Posted December 04, 2012 at 15:08:31 in reply to Comment 83201

It is not the role nor the responsibility of the Wever Hub to inform you of the status of the Sanford Avenue School. It is however the responsibility of your local Councillor and the City of Hamilton and the HWDSB and your local trustee. Your post misrepresents the role and activities of the Wever Hub in providing quality programming to the children of the neighbourhood. You owe an apology to the tireless volunteers of the Hub for your misrepresentation. You are correct however in identifying the neglect of the local councillor as a key factor in the current developments

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By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted November 25, 2012 at 02:26:21 in reply to Comment 83179

You are crossing a very fine line here, Rebecca. I suggest you be very careful with you choice of words from here on.

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By Mainstreet (anonymous) | Posted November 25, 2012 at 07:19:55

Note to Mr. Butani,please keep up your good work and well reasoned comments on this site as well as other sites.Youre comments are always appreciated.Thank you.

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By Chris Cutler (anonymous) | Posted December 04, 2012 at 14:51:47 in reply to Comment 83181

Respectfully Mr Butani has no idea what he is talking about when he talks about the Wever Hub

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By Spitting Mad (anonymous) | Posted November 26, 2012 at 13:12:19 in reply to Comment 83181

If you consider those comments helpful, you should go hawk a loogie in front of that blue stucco abomination on King street and stop the sycophantic sucking up. Morelli is an utter failure to the ward, but Butani and the south end NIMBYs are just as bad or worse.

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By DollHouse (anonymous) | Posted November 25, 2012 at 12:17:07

I find the work of Mission Services, PTA groups and the local councilor have a more vested interest in the area then people who don't live or invest in the area.

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted November 26, 2012 at 08:54:21

"Mission Services and two developers with experience restoring old buildings are interested in looking into Sanford School"

I gather that this pits the former tenant of the McIlwriath School against the developer who supplanted them?

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By GoGo (anonymous) | Posted November 26, 2012 at 09:46:48

Woodlands park is getting a 30K upgrade courtesy of Rona. How much more green space do we need within a one block radius?

It's just easier/cheaper for them to bulldoze the place and throw some grass in than to do something creative with it or let someone develop it! God I can't take much more...

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By j (registered) | Posted November 26, 2012 at 10:10:39

There is an ocean of parking around the Wever and Sanford schools, enough for many soccer fields. Tearing down the BoE building was about parking and this could be easily fixed if every teacher and staffperson didn't have an entitlement to a parking spot.

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By FYI (anonymous) | Posted November 26, 2012 at 16:50:12

Youtube Video on Sanford School:

Published on Nov 24, 2012 by Christopher Healey

We were feeling helpless and exasperated at news that the local school board had slipped through a demolition order request to level a heritage building - and this gets processed within 10 days! The obliteration can begin in January.

There is no or little chance of fighting it this at this point. But what we can do is document the moment by complaining on a cold, overcast and very windy day as we walk around the school. We can let everyone know what happened here and who was involved in these decisions. We can present more viable options to demolishing heritage buildings - such as a senior home, artist live-work spaces or even condos.

In Hamilton Ontario where we live many beautiful buildings get torn down and now one of the most historically significant landmarks of built heritage in the city core is to be quickly demolished and replaced with a soccer field with plenty of free parking. Sanford School was opened in 1932 and is the first 100% Canadian steel framed building.

You can find out more by visiting my blog post about it at

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted November 26, 2012 at 17:49:40 in reply to Comment 83218

Clickable video link:

This demolition is a travesty. It's time to demolish the HWDSB

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By Rebecca Doll (anonymous) | Posted November 27, 2012 at 00:06:07

Hello, I can see from the comments above that you think I have been part of this discussion. I have not been. When I am, I use my own name. I cannot tell from the comments if this is your misunderstanding or deliberateness on the part of Dollhouse.
-Rebecca Doll

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By FYI (anonymous) | Posted November 28, 2012 at 11:56:33

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By Go Go (anonymous) | Posted November 28, 2012 at 14:44:10

Courtesy of Chris Healey ‏@muskoxen

A phone conversation podcast with Tim Simmons on the destruction of Sanford School.

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By dan5010 (registered) | Posted December 05, 2012 at 17:51:41

It does not seem to matter whether it is the Hamilton School Board, or the City of Hamilton, or the City of Brantford - all these entities seem extrememly zealous in tearing down extremely old historical and beautiful buildings!!!

This is nothing new, just another nail in the coffin in a long list of heritage buildings that continues to be knocked down or neglected. I watched as Brantford recently went blindly ahead and knocked down 41 of its most historical buildings (some pre-confederation) for no other reason than to get rid of them!

Hamilton is no better - the old Tivoli and Century theatres, the Thistle club, the old Studebaker factory, some old mansions, ..the list is endless! You watch.. Delta High School will be the next one!

It comes down to either lazy, apathetic board members, or just greedy slimeball developers, both who have no appreciation or understanding of great architecture and would tear down the Taj Mahal to replace it with a parking garage if they knew they could make a buck out of it!!

The whole things makes me SICK!!!!

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By Steve (registered) | Posted December 06, 2012 at 13:14:26 in reply to Comment 83509

No Merulla, or his supporters, have plans for Delta. But everything else you've said is spot on.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted December 06, 2012 at 17:32:45 in reply to Comment 83548

He can have all the plans he wants, but if the board's not on side, it won't happen.

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