By Richard Leitner, News Staff
An agreement to temporarily relocate Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board employees to three downtown buildings when they vacate the Education Centre won’t cost city taxpayers a penny.
Board chair Tim Simmons said the two-year “swing space” deal with McMaster University will also give trustees a bit more breathing room to consider where to build new headquarters because it allows for a possible one-year extension to the lease.
Staff will probably begin moving into the Standard Life Building, Stelco Tower and Robert Thompson Building this summer, he said.
The agreement is the final piece to seal the sale of the Education Centre to Mac, which plans to raze the 100 Main St. W. landmark to make way for a health campus that will also include space for the city’s health department.
The health department will lease 19,000 square feet of space in the $85-million health campus and share another 10,000, but still requires another 52,300 square feet elsewhere.
“We’re very relieved that we have the final (sale) condition agreed upon,” Simmons said, crediting a decision to negotiate directly with McMaster, rather than involve the city, for the breakthrough on the swing space.
“When it was the three of us working on it things quickly (got) complicated.”
City manager Chris Murray welcomed the lease deal, which he said not only secures the health campus but also allows a joint city-board task force more time to find a downtown location for new board headquarters.
A $31.6-million plan to build at Crestwood school near Lime Ridge Mall on the Mountain already has Ministry of Education approval.
The board will contribute $859,300 per year to the lease arrangement – an amount that includes $126,000 in interest from the Education Centre sale – and McMaster will cover any balance for up to two years.
Simmons said he didn’t know how much extra Mac will pay and the university did not respond to inquiries seeking the information by deadline.
Murray said the swing-space arrangement is solely between the board and McMaster and won’t cost the city anything, unlike a previous plan to sublease space in the Thompson building.
The joint task force has yet to identify potential downtown sites for new board headquarters, but a meeting next week will likely set terms of reference to focus the search, he said.
“This is really a good decision and one which this community will benefit from for an awful long time,” Murray said of the lease deal with McMaster, which had been threatening to look elsewhere to build the health campus.
“We might be able to keep a good portion of the school board administration downtown as well, which is just another shot in the arm for Hamilton and its downtown, so we’ll keep working on it and see if we can’t be successful on that front, too.”
According to McMaster, the health campus will provide physicians to 15,000 residents presently without a family doctor, serve 4,000 students and be home to 450 Mac employees. It is slated to open in July 2014.
“The downtown campus will become a hub of healthcare delivery, teaching and research that will benefit thousands of residents,” university vice-president John Kelton said.