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Dundas trustee questions Highland renovation plan

By Richard Leitner, News Staff

Highland Secondary School will be expanded and renovated in two stages to accommodate Parkside students rather than rebuilt after coming up empty on a request for provincial cash.

A funding strategy debated by Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board trustees for nearly three hours on Monday hopes to complete construction of a new gym and science labs in the fall of next year and finish remaining upgrades in the fall of 2015.

Money for the $15-million facelift – Plan B to the preferred goal of rebuilding at $25 million – will come from the sale proceeds from other school sites, including Parkside Secondary School, scheduled to close in 2014.

Dundas trustee Jessica Brennan said she accepts the decision to expand and renovate Highland, but isn’t yet satisfied the $15 million is enough to meet student needs, including for proper-sized gymnasiums.

She took issue with a plan to spend nearly $19 million to renovate Dalewood and G.R. Allan elementary schools in Westdale to accommodate the closure of Prince Philip, but a motion to refer the matter back to staff lost on a 6-5 vote.

“I don’t want to take anything away from these other schools, I just want to have a better understanding of what is the pot that we have to work with,” Brennan said.

“Given the funding, I didn’t expect anything more than the $15 million tonight, but I am surprised about the two elementary schools,” she said. “If it’s not enough (for Highland), then I have to figure out a way to come back and bang everybody over the head.”

The Highland bill includes $5 million for the new gym and six science labs as well as expanded cafeteria and staff rooms. The remaining $10 million will go toward “legacy costs” – long-needed repairs to the school’s infrastructure.

The project is one of six identified by the strategy, which will cost an estimated $100.9 million. About half will be funded through Ministry of Education capital and school-repair grants.

The ministry last month announced it will provide $31.8 million for a new high school in the lower city to replace Delta, Parkview and Sir John A. Macdonald – one the board hopes will be built near the new Pan Am stadium.

A $5.4-million addition to Saltfleet District in upper Stoney Creek will get full provincial funding, while $8.5 million in upgrades to G.R. Allan will get $3.8 million. The board will largely fund $10.3 million in repairs at Dalewood on its own.

Flamborough trustee Karen Turkstra called it “fiscally irresponsible” to spend more on the Westdale schools than on Highland when the latter’s per-student facility and programming costs will be higher.

“We could build two new JK to 8 schools in that (Westdale) area and spend less money,” she said. “I cannot support such an inequitable distribution of finite, precious funds.”

But board chair Tim Simmons said the renovations are part of the business case for ministry funding and will address longstanding repair needs all at once, rather than doing them piecemeal, which will cost more in the long run.

“The officials know what they’re doing to spend money wisely,” he said of board facility staff. “They know how to renovate old buildings. They’ve been doing it for a long time.”

The final major project is the construction of a new high school on the southeast Mountain, now set to open in the fall of 2016, a year later than originally scheduled.

The funding strategy bases the projection on acquiring a site south of the Lincoln Alexander Parkway for the $27.4-million school by the spring of next year.

The plan will close Barton, Hill Park and Mountain secondary schools, and use the proceeds from their sale to help pay for the 1,000-student school, which also came up empty on a request for provincial funding.

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