‘Discretionary pot’ can upgrade surviving schools, trustees told
Pending and future closures of Hamilton public schools over the next decade are projected to help create a windfall of up to $86 million to spend on upgrades to schools surviving the cut.
A report prepared by Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board staff forecasts the surplus will come from a combination of property sales, education development charges on new construction and provincial grants.
It estimates the board will spend $233 million on new schools between now and the 2021/22 school year, and that nearly $112 million of that bill will be covered by Ministry of Education funding.
The sale of vacant and surplus school properties is meanwhile projected to raise $176 million – $102 million of it at the elementary level – with development charges introduced in June contributing a further $31.7 million.
Senior facilities officer Dan Del Bianco said the $86-million surplus is “at the high end” of estimates and based on the board being able to sever and sell portions of some school properties.
But whatever the amount, he said he’d like to see the board use the “discretionary pot” for special projects, like improving gymnasiums or creating standard science labs and art classrooms in all surviving schools, rather than for school repairs.
Del Bianco said where the money should go will become clearer as the board goes through 14 accommodation reviews covering 80 of 95 elementary schools over the next five years.
Trustees have already approved the closure of seven of 18 high schools as part of a plan to build new ones at Scott Park in the lower city and south of theLincoln Alexander Parkwayon the east Mountain.
Overall, the closures at both levels are projected to eliminate 6,700 pupil spaces.
“The $86 million, in my mind, is the result of the hard work the board’s undertaken and the tough decisions the board’s undertaken,” Del Bianco said during a presentation to the board’s finance committee.
Trustees requested the report in March at the behest of Flamborough representative Karen Turkstra, who resigned as chair of the finance committee in protest over a decision to spend nearly $19 million to upgrade Westdale’s Dalewood and George R. Allan elementary schools as part of a plan to close Prince Philip school.
At the time, she expressed fear the pricy upgrades would hamper the board’s financial ability to make improvements to other schools surviving future accommodation reviews.
New finance committee chair Judith Bishop, who represents the three west-end schools, joined other trustees in praising staff for setting out a clear plan for school renewal over the next decade.
“One of the things that in the past we were concerned about as trustees is we weren’t always sure that decisions were made within a whole-system framework,” the trustee for wards 1 and 2 said. “This is a big picture in a way we’ve never seen before.”
The report offers a gloomier prognosis of how the board will grapple with nearly $628 million in outstanding school repair needs.
It projects school closures will lower that bill by $225 million, leaving the rest to be funded by ministry grants of $8 million per year.
But Del Bianco said several other boards are in the same predicament and the ministry expects boards to manage school repairs as best they can.
“We will never get that number to zero. It’s impossible,” he said. “You can’t provide a board with $8 million on an annual basis to review and hope that they’re going to somehow eliminate 600-plus million dollars.”