Conservation authority directors unanimously OK razing Maplewood Hall
By Richard Leitner, News Staff
The Hamilton Conservation Authority expects to demolish a former Dundas Valley outdoor education centre by this fall now that plans to rent it to a private school are officially dead.
Directors unanimously approved a recommendation from their conservation advisory board (CAB) to raze Maplewood Hall after voting to receive without comment an 11th-hour appeal to save the 96-year-old building.
A 75-signature online petition submitted via email by a group calling itself Friends of Artaban Camp/Maplewood Hall urged directors to instead upgrade the building to allow it to again be used for outdoor education, as it was from 1970 to 1993.
The petition did not provide a contact name and was signed by Change.org, which describes itself as “the world’s largest petition platform.”
Forty-one of the signatories identified themselves as Hamilton residents, with most others being from Ontario, although two were from Italy.
Authority chair Brian McHattie said afterwards he didn’t look at the petition “too deeply.”
“I’m not a big fan of petitions, as a politician. They’re just all too easy to orchestrate and people sign them without thinking very deeply about an issue,” the Ward 1 councillor and mayoral candidate said.
“This issue’s been before CAB and the board for many, many months as well, and my sense is that all the folks that were concerned about it made their views known,” he said, noting a number of people also met with him privately to voice concerns.
“I think that’s the way to intervene on issues like this.”
Chief administrative officer Chris Firth-Eagland said the petition is the only feedback the authority has received since CAB voted unanimously on Jan. 16 to recommend the building be torn down.
The move came after opponents of a proposal to rent the hall to Strata Montessori Adolescent School of Dundas pledged $213,000 toward demolition and returning the 13-hectare Artaban Road property to nature.
Firth-Eagland took issue with the accuracy of the petition, which accuses the authority of rushing to bulldoze the building “without allowing time or any means for input from those most affected.”
He said a public consultation process offered plenty of chances to comment, including at an open house, an advisory board meeting dedicated to the proposal and through the authority’s website.
“It got a lot of airing and a lot of community press. I think it’s balanced,” Firth-Eagland said. “Ultimately, the conservation authority is just not in a position to carry on hosting weddings in the forest,” he said. “That’s not our mandate.”
Firth-Eagland said he expects the authority to issue a tender for the demolition “very soon,” with September as a target date for the work to take place.
Demolition will end a long-running debate over the fate of the building, also once known as the Resource Management Centre when it hosted school kids for outdoor education between 1970 and 1993, before provincial funding cuts forced it to shut.
Two other subsequent proposals to lease it to private users — first to a yoga group and then to Tapley Binet private school — were also abandoned amid fierce public opposition and the building was rebranded as a banquet hall in 2003.
But it hasn’t been rented for the past two years because its septic system doesn’t meet regulatory standards for large gatherings like weddings.
Grace Correia, executive director of the Hamilton Conservation Foundation, the authority’s charitable fundraising arm, told directors her organization has three confirmed pledges toward demolition cost totaling $185,000.
Two are spread out over five years and a fourth donor has promised to raise $28,000 by the end of this year, she said.
East Mountain councillor Tom Jackson said the commitments raise his “comfort level” on approving demolition.
“The dollars are going to be in place and it’s not something this board or management down the road will have to respectfully ask people, ‘Remember what you promised in 2014,’ knocking on their door,” he said.
“I don’t want to go through that type of exercise if we can avoid it.”