By Mike Pearson, News staff
An arts and culture centre is just one possibility for the former Memorial School site, Ancaster Heritage Village Business Improvement Area chair Bob Wilkins said.
Wilkins, who recently met with nine community groups to discuss the prominent village core property, is still exploring numerous options.
“There’s nothing formal yet,” said Wilkins in a Jan. 24 interview.
A passive park, additional parking for BIA businesses, seniors housing or an alternate location for the Ancaster Farmers Market are some other possibilities Wilkins envisions for the property if the site remains in public ownership.
“There’s no doubt we need this property for the community,” said Wilkins.
Theatre Ancaster, the Hamilton All Star Jazz Band, Fieldcote Memorial Park and Museum, Ancaster Film Fest, the Ancaster BIA, Ancaster Farmers Market and Music at Fieldcote are some of the organizations engaged in the discussion regarding the site’s future.
The 1.7-hectare property at 357 Wilson St. E. is expected to be sold by the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board by July, 2014, when a new education centre is slated to open at the former Crestwood School site near Lime Ridge Mall. Board staff who currently work at the Memorial site will be accommodated at the new education centre.
In an address to the Fieldcote Museum volunteer committee on Jan. 23, Ancaster Councillor Lloyd Ferguson said preserving the Memorial site for community use is his top priority.
“It’s critically important that we keep that Memorial School site in public ownership,” said Ferguson.
Ferguson has supported a plan to purchase the school site using the Ancaster reserve fund. To offset costs, the city could sever a portion of the site for residential development while retaining a piece of the property for the community. He points to the Grange model that saw the city purchase the former Grange School on Woodworth Drive and later sell part of the property to a developer for nine single family homes. The remaining portion was earmarked for a passive park.
But Ferguson has acknowledged that the estimated $1.5 million dollars sitting in the Ancaster reserve will be insufficient to purchase the entire Memorial site.
In an interview last month, HWDSB communications officer Rob Faulkner said that while the board will attempt to sell the school site to a preferred buyer during a 90-day period, the board is required to seek fair market value in accordance with provincial regulations.
“At the end of the 90-day period, if the board does not receive a bona fide offer from a preferred agent then the board will seek Ministry approval to sell the (property) through a tender process,” Faulkner stated in an email.
Preferred agencies include other school boards, colleges and universities and the City of Hamilton.
Along with Memorial School, the former Maple Lane School on Miller Drive is also expected to be sold by 2014. The site is currently used for staff in-service training sessions.
When Memorial School closed its doors to students in 1979, the building became the main office of the Wentworth County Board of Education. Memorial was built in 1947 for students in Kindergarten to Grade 8.
As the first large, graded school built in Ancaster, Memorial opened with six classrooms, a nurse's room, principal's office, washrooms, staff rooms, furnace room, auditorium and stage. The grounds also include a parking lot and baseball field.