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Hamilton public board eyes sale of Mountain school sites

By Richard Leitner, News Staff

The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board is taking the first step in selling three Mountain properties – two of which were once identified as potential sites for a new high school it hopes to build south of the Lincoln Alexander Parkway.

Trustees on Monday initiated phase one of the board’s property disposition protocol to allow for public consultation on the future of vacant sites by Jerome Park in Ward 7 and Broughton Avenue in Ward 6, no longer preferred locations for the new high school.

They did likewise for two hectares of land at Sir Allan MacNab Secondary School that the city hopes to buy to create a stormwater holding area to reduce flooding problems in the neighbourhood.

Board chair Tim Simmons said initiating the process doesn’t necessarily mean the properties will be sold, but trustees are being proactive in case they need to do so to help pay for new schools.

The board is still awaiting word on how much provincial funding it well get for its plan to close seven high schools, build new ones on the Mountain and in the lower city, and rebuild at Highland in Dundas.

The plan, drawn from a lengthy accommodation review, is predicated on using money from the sale of surplus school sites and getting $82 million in Ministry of Education funding – out of $350 million available province-wide.

“We need to get our ducks in a row, as you might say,” Simmons said. “We’re hopeful the ministry will be generous with us, but we need to be ready for when they do come out with their capital grants and be able to react to how generous they’re going to be.”

Simmons said initiating the process for the Jerome and Broughton sites signals they are unlikely candidates for the new high school, but the board has yet to identify the preferred location.

“We don’t have anything concrete at this time, but we’re definitely looking at sites,” he said. “A lot of things can’t happen until we find out what our capital funding’s going to be.”

Ward 7 trustee Lillian Orban opposed initiating the sale protocol, which she said puts “the cart before the horse” and reflects a tendency to sell land to pay for schools the province should fund.

She said previous boards were visionary in acquiring properties for future schools and she’s concerned the 11-hectare Jerome site may yet be needed because the Mountain is still growing.

“I don’t want to let the province off the hook,” Orban said. “I want the ministry to take responsibility and respect this board and the system, instead of using all our sites.”

Ward 6 trustee Laura Peddle, who pushed to strike Broughton and Jerome from the list of preferred spots for the new high school, favoured starting the protocol but said she won’t vote to sell either site unless the board is able to acquire its preferred one.

Beginning the process simply allows for early public consultation and will give trustees options if events don’t unfold as hoped, she said.

“This is just, I would call it, getting into a state of preparedness, so that we will know what the public thinks about that land if we do want to divest of some of it.” Peddle said.

“But what if the ministry comes back (without funding for the new high school) or we can’t get the land we want? Then we still have to come back and still build it.”

As for the MacNab parcel, Ward 8 trustee Wes Hicks said the proposed stormwater holding area was identified by a city committee that explored ways to reduce neighbourhood flooding during major rainfalls.

To be located at the bottom of the hill to the east of the existing outdoor track, the area would be designed to fill up with excess flows during storms. The water would drain afterwards, leaving the area dry for most of the year.

Hicks said he’s been told the project has community support.

“We certainly don’t need it because we have all the other area for the playing fields,” Hicks said of the two hectares.

“I don’t see any problems with us going ahead with that; however, it has to go through the proper processes to make sure everyone’s on the same page.”

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