Medical Officer of Health Asked to Investigate Sanford School

By Ryan McGreal
Published December 18, 2012

this blog entry has been updated

This should be interesting. Gary Santucci just sent an email to Dr Elizabeth Richardson, Hamilton's medical officer of health, asking her to investigate whether students held at Sanford School in 2010 were exposed to airborne contaminants in the building.

Recently, officials with the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) refused to allow prospective tenants to enter Sanford School, citing concerns about airborne contaminants. However, as recently as 2010 the school was accommodating students whose schools were under construction.

Dr Richardson replied to advise Santucci that Matt Lawson, manager of the City's Health Hazards Program, will investigate the issue.

RTH contacted the school board for comment, but has not yet received a reply.

Here is the text of Santucci's email:

In a recent conversation with Chair Tim Simmons of Ward 3, he informed that access to Sanford Avenue School was restricted to persons wearing protective suits and masks due to airborne contaminants. I had requested access so that a business case could be made for the adaptive re-use of Sanford School.

During last evening's meeting of the committee of the whole for the Board of Education, it was confirmed that Sanford Avenue School was used by the Board as a holding school for students while their own schools were being constructed as recently as 2010.

Based on Tim Simmons' remarks to me, I am concerned that The HWDSB may have exposed students to these airborne contaminants over an extended period. As the Officer of Health for the City of Hamilton, I respectfully request that you begin an investigation into this matter.

Last night, the Board of Trustees voted to proceed with the planned demolition of the school, despite the fact that several developers have expressed interest in buying it. The school closed in 2001 and was declared surplus in 2003.

The Board offered the building to the City of Hamilton and other institutional agencies in 2005, but apparently has never offered it for sale to private buyers. Investors who tried to express interest in the building were told it was not for sale.

Update: HWDSB Chair Tim Simmons has replied with the following statement:

As we do with all our schools, Sanford Avenue received regular maintenance to ensure the continued safety of all staff and students while it was in use. Sanford was last used as a school building in the 2009/2010 academic year. The City of Hamilton leased the gym in 2011. The building was finally closed to all use and decommissioned in September 2011.

On November 1, 2012, a site visit was conducted at Sanford. At that time, the building was noted to have deteriorated rapidly since its closure. Given the poor condition of the building, an environmental report recommended that all personnel entering the facility wear personnel protective equipment.

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 wrecking ball (anonymous) | Posted December 18, 2012 at 12:18:22

My guess. There's nothing wrong with the building, they just didn't want the investors to get inside and prove for themselves. Let the wrecking ball fly!

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By H+H (registered) - website | Posted December 18, 2012 at 12:29:00

Thanks Gary for doing this. Yet another "deal" in Hamilton that stinks. More on their way, of course.

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By Steve (registered) | Posted December 18, 2012 at 13:03:40

I expect the answer will be that it wasn't an issue in 2010 because all the asbestos (that's what I'm assuming airborne contaminants mean) was intact, but since the school closed there's been work to strip valuable materials, which disturbed the asbestos.

My understanding is the building was stripped of copper in the summer of 2010. So have all workers who've entered the building since 2010, including the ones stripping the copper, been outfitted with protective gear?

I'd wager not.

H+H is correct, it's business as usual in Hamilton. Ward 3 in particular.

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By wow (anonymous) | Posted December 19, 2012 at 08:31:27 in reply to Comment 84097

If the building was stripped for copper etc in 2010 this effectively when the demolition began. Once the plumbing stacks where removed and perhaps the electrical stripped the deal was done.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 19, 2012 at 08:59:10 in reply to Comment 84151

So they started demolition without a permit

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By wow (anonymous) | Posted December 19, 2012 at 11:36:47 in reply to Comment 84152

I would assume that the demolition was not 'legally started' ie permit required my point is more that the 'moral demolition' had begun at that point, and when the decision to strip the building of copper was made, it's fate was sealed.

I've heard the same has happened over at the Royal Connaught so be warned.

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By GoGo (anonymous) | Posted December 18, 2012 at 13:09:51

Wasn't' there a guy just there changing locks as well? I don't think he was wearing a suit.

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By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted December 18, 2012 at 13:52:27

To the Trustees of the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board - (HWDSB):

Inspired educationists brings hope for the future of children and the environment. They take destroyed objects out of landfills and recreate life: Landfill Harmonics

In Hamilton, our educationists create landfills by destroying perfectly healthy buildings.

Last night, you the 'keepers' of education standards in Hamilton set the bar on "truth & integrity" so low - it may take a generation to rebuild the trust that was lost mindlessly.

Your vote on Sanford School clearly tells children in our city that it is 'ok to lie and deceive' in the name of progress.

Most of you voted in favour of demolishing a perfectly sound building in a reviving neighbourhood, in spite of being fully aware of the very serious lies and deceptions with the 'community engagement' or the lack of it.

In doing so you have clearly violated your 'fiduciary duties'.

“the essence of trusteeship is to hold something, a property, a responsibility, an ideal, in one’s care for a period of time and then pass it on undiminished to those who follow.”

You have also clearly failed to communicate with the local community the "truth" about the Sanford School building.

"Communicating with the community is an important part of the trustee’s role. All board constituents need and have a right to know about what children are learning and how well they are learning.

They also have a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent and a right to participate in discussions on the allocation of education resources in their community."

Trustees in other jurisdictions who dared to betray the community trust, have paid dearly. The consequences of doing so are real and swift.

What you the trustees of HWDSB have been doing at Sanford/Cathy Wever clearly amounts to 'advocacy' for the yet unfunded 'green space' and the expansion of a 'community centre' - in spite of strong evidence against it.

Such type of 'advocacy' by School Board trustees is simply not allowed by law.

For those trustees who have voted against the demolition:

"If you as a trustee can’t live with the direction your board is going; resign.

A school board trustee who cannot in good conscience continue to perform that duty has a choice. S/he can resign and regain the elector’s right to challenge the school board in court. What h/she cannot do is remain and abandon his public duty to advance his/her private interest. H/she is unable, in those circumstances, to bring an unbiased mind to the performance of his/her public duty."

Before this issue escalates with the Ontario Minister of Education, there may still be time for you'll to do some serious introspection and weigh the consequences of continuing on the wrong road you have chosen to walk on.

There should be no shame in apologizing and rebuilding the lost trust, when one has clearly lost ones path. In fact that is what all good educationists do.

Leading by example is essentially educating by example.

Mahesh P. Butani

Note: If you believe that the HWDSB is on the wrong path, please copy and email this message - along with your thoughts to the Trustees at:,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

Ministry of Education:

Comment edited by Mahesh_P_Butani on 2012-12-18 15:03:47

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By SCRAP (anonymous) | Posted December 18, 2012 at 16:15:46

Nicely written Mahesh, where I would of said, where are your morals and ethics, plain, simple to the point!

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By Saint-touch-me (anonymous) | Posted December 18, 2012 at 17:04:49

Maybe the Medical officer should investigate that industrial building where shows are now being run to see if it isn't a health hazard to anyone who goes in. Hypocrisy or what???

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By Steve (registered) | Posted December 18, 2012 at 20:59:43 in reply to Comment 84115

Says the coward behind a pseudonym... Yeah okay.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted December 18, 2012 at 18:27:25 in reply to Comment 84115

The only hypocrisy is that a citizen can do all the right things and still be challenged by the city on outlandish rules, and yet the school board can do whatever it wants with no opposition.

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By TDR (registered) - website | Posted December 19, 2012 at 00:00:23

I was told by various parents of Dr Davey students (who used Sanford while the new Dr Davey was being built), that there were extreme maintenance issues inside the building while they were in attendance. As Trustee Simmons said, they built Cathy Wever on the yard of Sanford, with the assumption that they would knock down Sanford. And from that moment on, they had no intention of doing any maintenance on Sanford, regardless of the safety of the children using it. I think an investigation will be well worthwhile. It seems blatantly apparent that the well-being of the children of these neighbourhoods is not the concern of the HWDSB.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted December 19, 2012 at 05:36:33 in reply to Comment 84131

It seems blatantly apparent that the well-being of the children of these neighbourhoods is not the concern of the HWDSB.

I think the HWDSB doesn't seem to really care about the overall safety of the students and staff using their schools. A personal example: while in high school in the 1990s, our building had a large asbestos remediation job done that took a year to complete. During the removal, we had 'asbestos tents' running from holes cut in the ceiling to the floor, with a tarp running around the cut (floor to ceiling). These tarps were not sealed at the floor or ceiling, and would periodically blow open, be left open, or opened by students. I have no idea what I was exposed to and hope it wasn't serious. It seems to me that as long as the work gets done, the method to how it gets done doesn't seem to bother anyone.

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By SCRAP (anonymous) | Posted December 19, 2012 at 06:08:50

Just a quiry, people are talking about the health and safety of students and staff, as one would assume that asbesto removal would be contracted in. The question that is not asked, are the workers themsleves safe from breathing in the dust and fibers?

Since a worker issue like this would fall under min of lab: OH & S Act, which is legislated law, however it is the enforement of such law,that falls by the warside, until something serious happens.

If worker issue are ignored and thought of as collateral damage, where do you think the rest of us actually fit in the frame of things?

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By Concerned (anonymous) | Posted December 19, 2012 at 07:06:13

Yikes. I worked there and was pregnant in 2010. My son seems okay...

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted December 19, 2012 at 10:17:58 in reply to Comment 84140

iirc, asbestos (assuming that's the chief worry) can't cause birth defects. It doesn't spread through your body, it stays in your lungs ripping teeny-tiny sub-cellular holes in things... which isn't good for you, but the kid who wasn't breathing yet doesn't have to worry.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted December 19, 2012 at 10:45:10 in reply to Comment 84160

According to this article in the Spec this morning, the board also mentioned lead paint concerns.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted December 19, 2012 at 12:21:35 in reply to Comment 84166

Ah, yeah that's a bit more serious... but the school would've had layers of paint over the lead paint, so (like the asbestos) it's only really a serious health concern if you're present during the demolition process. You probably get more lead from the drinking water in the lower city. Old pipes are old.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted December 19, 2012 at 19:04:54 in reply to Comment 84173

I don't think any of the board's 'concerns' were serious, but rather a red herring as another poster suggested. I was just sayin'...

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By Steve (registered) | Posted December 19, 2012 at 10:38:07

If green space is so important to the HWDSB why is the playground at Wever astro-turf? I haven't been past the school in some time, but it is astro-turf isn't it?

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted December 19, 2012 at 12:18:14 in reply to Comment 84165

And concrete. Let's not forget the extensive concrete playgrounds that are actually present for every school. Even affluent George R Allan in Westdale sports a concrete courtyard... while GRAllan is adjascent to the massive Churchill Park and surrounded by greenspace, students are restricted to the concrete playground area during recesses if I remember correctly. So really, the HWDSB doesn't actually care about letting students play on the grass unless it helps them justify an already-made decision. It would be trivial to rip up some of this terrain and lay out a lawn, but they choose not to.

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2012-12-19 12:19:16

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By GoGo (anonymous) | Posted December 19, 2012 at 11:04:39 in reply to Comment 84165

Yes Steve, it is astro turf. They pulled the grass out a couple of years ago and put in the 'faux grass'. Plus someone tried to burn it and now there is a 15" hole in it.

So much for the green space theory.

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By SCRAP (anonymous) | Posted December 19, 2012 at 12:05:32

there is a facebook page, to Save Sanford Street School, the goal is to develop direct action strategies, check it out. Join in the fun!

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By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted December 19, 2012 at 13:22:05

Since this was brought up here on Dec 17th: "Ironically, an adult size soccer field was being proposed for an Elementary School..." -- the term Soccer Field has been replaced by Green Space!


The HWDSB also needs to publicly disclose the original BOARD IDENTIFIED PTR-CANDIDATE FORM that was filed by them for Sanford School with the Ministry of Education. This should have been filed by HWDSB by Nov 30, 2006.

The original PTR (Prohibitive to Repair) process mentioned that the Sanford School had a score of 85.90% (FCI by OTG)- (i.e. Facility Condition Index/On The Ground capacity - which reflects only the number of student spaces in a school).

This score was listed in the Ministry Identified PTR-Candidate Facilities Report (see above link), which was arrived at by using the --faulty-- ReCAPP tool.

The PTR-CANDIDATE FORM for Sanford School needs to be publicly disclosed by HWSBD immediately.

Given the Boards lack of transparency on this matter, they also need to immediately disclose to the public the "Environment Report" (along with the name of the consultant) that was used to stop people from entering the building sometime around/past November 1, 2012 - as mentioned here.

Also - if this was only discovered around Nov 1, 2012, what were the reason for withholding entry earlier in end July/Aug of 2012?

Mahesh P. Butani

Comment edited by Mahesh_P_Butani on 2012-12-19 13:50:55

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