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Land swap won’t crimp new school’s funding: board chair

Home levees will cover lost sale proceeds, Brennan says

By Richard Leitner, News Staff

The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board says a funding strategy for a new high school on the southeast Mountain won’t be hindered by a decision to trade land it initially intended to sell to help cover construction costs.

Board chair Jessica Brennan said the strategy initially planned to use the proceeds from education development charges to pay for the property, but that money can now be put toward the school.

Introduced in June, the charges levy a tax of $1,040 on new homes and 40 cents per square foot on non-residential development. They can normally only be used to buy and prepare sites for construction.

“Certainly whatever money we would have used to acquire land we no longer have to use,” Brennan said. “By not using money in one way, we have money elsewhere that we can now use because we don’t need to buy land.”

Trustees emerged from a closed-door session on Dec. 11 to approve “an equitable land exchange” for a 26-acre site known as Shermal Estates, located south of Rymal Road byUpper Sherman Avenue.

While Brennan said she can’t divulge which property the board is trading until the deal is concluded, the Mountain News has been told the deal includes 26 acres of surplus land in the Jerome neighbourhood on the central Mountain, along with another surplus property, in exchange for the Shermal land and over $1 million in cash.

The board is asking the Ministry of Education to contribute $31.8 million to the school’s construction – the same amount received for the new high school by the Pan Am stadium – but she said she’s “absolutely” confident it can go it alone if necessary.

“If part of the calculus is having money to buy land, and we’ve got land, then the rest of the calculus or arithmetic still adds up,” she said.

Senior facilities officer Dan Del Bianco said he expects the land swap to be finalized within the next two months, allowing the board to make public which property it is trading.

He said the board has yet to determine how much of the Shermal Estates site it will need because of a proposed partnership with the French public board on the school.

Announced in October, the partnership calls for “two separate entities” that would share some facilities as well as infrastructure like heating and cooling systems.

The English board school would accommodate between 1,000 and 1,250 students, while the French school would hold 400 to 500 students in grades 7 to 12.

Del Bianco said the board’s funding strategy for its own school identified the need to purchase a 16-acre site through development charges, but whether some or all of the remaining 10 acres will be sold depends on the fate of the partnership plan.

“There’s a lot of balls up in the air on this one,” he said.  “It was easier to purchase the entire site. Then we’ll determine our requirements, what potentially the French board could require and how much of it is surplus.

“There’s always that opportunity to sell surplus land later on.”

Ward 6 trustee Laura Peddlesaid she’s relieved the board has secured a site for the new high school and is keeping her “fingers crossed” that the ministry will approve the partnership.

Slated to open in September 2016, the Ward 7 school will replace Barton and Hill Park, the latter of which is closing in June. A renamed Barton will then become the transition school until the new one is ready.

Peddle said if the ministry comes through with funding for the new school, money the board had planned to use can be redirected toward repair needs, including at Sherwood.

“We upped the odds of freeing up money dramatically with that partnership,” Peddle said. “That’s a big chunk of money if we can get it redirected.”

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