Public Health Responds to Santucci on Sanford School

By Ryan McGreal
Published December 20, 2012

On December 18, Gary Santucci asked the City of Hamilton's Medical Officer of Health to investigate Sanford School. The school housed students as recently as 2010, but prospective buyers were recently told that they could not enter the building due to airborne contaminants.

Santucci expressed concern about the safety of the school for students in 2010 if it is now too dangerous to enter.

Matt Lawson, manager of the City's Health Hazards Program, investigated the issue and submitted the following response:

Dear Mr. Santucci,

I would like to provide you with information related to your email to Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, where you raised concerns regarding the safety of Sanford Avenue School during the 2009/2010 school year.

As you are likely aware, the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) is planning to demolish the school in the near future. An environmental engineering firm was contracted by the board to provide a site assessment of the building prior to demolition. The practice of a pre-demolition site assessment is supported by Public Health Services, as it can help identify any potential risks to public health and safety resulting from the demolition process.

The results of the site assessment performed on Nov.1, 2012, concluded that moisture intrusion resulting in mould, flecking paint (lead-based), and asbestos-containing materials (ACM) were observed in the building. Due to these factors being present, the engineering consultant recommended that individuals entering the facility should wear personal protective equipment that would lower the risk of any exposure to the conditions within the building.

Regarding your concern that children may have been exposed to the same conditions being observed currently, I can safely say that there is no reason to believe there was any health risks to the children related to exposure of the indoor environment of the school in 2009/2010.

The reason is that the conditions that exist today at the school are a result of more than two years of neglected maintenance and certain structural components have deteriorated. The building has not been maintained and kept in proper condition for use as a school since 2010, and the resulting mould, and flaking paint are part of the result.

Regarding the asbestos within the school, this is a common feature of buildings as old as the Sanford Avenue School building. So long as the ACM were maintained intact when the school was operational, there should be no risk of exposure. I have no reason to believe that the ACM within the school were in a state of disrepair when the school was operational.

I trust you will find this information should address your concerns regarding any potential health risks existing at the school during the 2009/2010 academic year.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any additional questions or concerns.


Matthew Lawson
Manager, Environmental Health
Hamilton Public Health Services

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 BS (anonymous) | Posted December 20, 2012 at 14:11:16

In just 2 years the building went from safe enough for kids to so dangerous you can't go in without a hazmat suit? My BS detector is buzzing.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted December 20, 2012 at 15:14:50 in reply to Comment 84236

A moisture problem could easily explain that, although that raises the question of where the moisture problem came from.

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By Gary Santucci (anonymous) | Posted December 20, 2012 at 15:09:12

Further request for information

Hello Matthew

I believe that the City of Hamilton leased the gymnasium until September 2011. Could you verify this for me? Is the environmental engineering report available to the public as well as the site assessment report? If so could you please forward copies? Did you enter the building or did you rely on the reports?


Gary Santucci

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By MattM (registered) | Posted December 20, 2012 at 19:45:56

It's not entirely unbelievable that a building can go from habitable to dangerous in 2 years. It's a hobby of mine to go into abandoned buildings and I've seen buildings go from in-use to mold filled and dangerous in less than a year. If the water damage is bad enough, it will happen. The Royal Connaught was a somewhat good example of that.

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By Steve (registered) | Posted December 20, 2012 at 20:59:17 in reply to Comment 84275

It only took 12 months from an operational hotel to a tear down, yet the Lister Block was brought back to life?

Just trying to get some clarity on the issue.

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By MattM (registered) | Posted December 26, 2012 at 13:45:32 in reply to Comment 84284

The partial interior demolition of the Royal Connaught that was abandoned halfway through exposed many parts of the building to an increased chance of water infiltration which, as the seasons passed, resulted in accelerated mold growth. Particularly noted on the main and 2nd floor boardroom and office areas. The water from the upper levels more freely flowed down toward the main and 2nd floors as the regular drainage systems were interrupted or completely removed in anticipation for replacement.

The Lister Block was arguably in even worse condition than the Royal Connaught is now, as the building had over a decade to be subjected to arson, vandalism and the natural elements. I guess the bottom line there was that anything is possible when you have $30 Mil of public money.

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