The Hamilton Conservation Authority is hosting an open house this Tuesday on a contentious proposal to lease its former Dundas Valley outdoor education centre to a private school.
Chief administrative officer Chris Firth-Eagland said the open house, which runs from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Nov. 5 at the Ancaster Old Town Hall, is the first step in a public consultation process on the fate of what is now called Maplewood Hall.
“Personally, I’m looking forward to the clarity this will bring to help us all determine what to do withMaplewood, built with taxpayer dollars,” he said. “That place has been a struggle for quite a while.”
Formerly known as the Resource Management Centre, the Artaban Road building served as the home base for outdoor education between 1970 and 1993, when it was forced shut by provincial funding cuts.
After vehement public opposition killed two previous proposals to lease the centre to private groups, the building was rebranded as a banquet hall in 2003 under its current moniker.
But it’s mostly sat empty for the past two years because its septic system no longer meets regulatory standards for weddings and other large functions.
The latest proposal would lease the hall to Strata Montessori Adolescent School of Dundas for 15 years and allow up to 60 students in Grades 7 to 9 and eight staff.
Tony Evans, the school’s director, has said the plan is “an ideal situation” for both sides because of a shared commitment to environmental conservation.
He told authority directors earlier this month the school hopes to limit its impact on the environmentally significant area, including by have students walk, rather than being bused, up Artaban Road and use compostable toilets.
The school will also explore the possibility of using alternate energy sources to run the building on its own power, he said.
“We have a profound respect for the environment,” Evans said. “This is who we are.”
But Catherine Beattie, who lives in the area, urged directors to heed a staff recommendation in February to demolish the hall and return the 13-hectare property to nature because urban growth is putting more stress than ever on the valley.
Dundas resident Joanna Chapman also objected to the lease, contending the school’s plan for an organic garden with chickens and barnyard animals will require fencing to keep other animals out.
“I don’t that think you teach young people about nature and the value of the outdoors by going into an area, encroaching on nature and destroying it,” she told directors. “This oversteps anything I’ve ever seen proposed before.”
Firth-Eagland said while senior staff supports the lease proposal, demolition would return a significant amount of the site to green space because it would remove the hall, a house, two cabins and two parking lots.
But he said the authority has taken several steps already to reduce its foot print in the valley, apart from relocating its works yard to Millgrove.
These include removing a garage near the site of the demolished Merrick Field Centre and the pending demolition of a house it once leased on Mineral Springs Road. A barn there has already been torn down.
Plans are also underway to remove four school portables near Christie Conservation Area because they are no longer used by the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board for outdoor education, he said.
“By the end of the year we will have taken down seven significant structures in the DundasValley,” he said.
The Maplewood proposal is scheduled to go the authority’s conservation advisory board on Dec. 12. Any recommendations it makes will go to the board directors on Jan. 9.