Director vows students will ‘live in harmony’ with valley
A private, not-for profit school is hoping the third time’s the charm on what may be the Hamilton Conservation Authority’s final attempt to find a suitable tenant for a former outdoor education centre in the Dundas Valley.
Tony Evans, director of the Hamilton Montessori Adolescent School, said he believes a proposed 15-year lease will be “an ideal situation” for both sides because of a shared commitment to environmental conservation.
The authority abandoned two previous proposals to rent the former Resource Management Centre – first to a yoga group and then to Tapley Binet private school – in response to vehement public opposition.
The building was converted into a banquet hall in 2003, but hasn’t been rented for most of the past two years because its septic system doesn’t meet regulatory standards for large gatherings like weddings.
Evans said his plan would allow for a maximum of 60 students in grades 7 to 9 who would be taught to “live in harmony with the land,” including by tending to a proposed organic garden with chickens and other small barnyard animals.
He said the new use won’t stress the septic system or environmentally significant area, but will still be opposed by “preservationists” who favour demolishing the centre and allowing the area to return to nature, as recommended by HCA staff in February.
“They’re going to say it should be completely left for the animals. That’s not what that land is for and that is not the original vision of the conservation authority,” Evans said.
“The people who are advocating for the conservation parks now tend to be people that grew up around here but that are a lot older. What we want to do is raise the next generation to take care of the conservation authority.”
Joanna Chapman, a Dundas resident who fought both previous plans, said she opposes the Montessori bid for all the same reasons and is concerned the organic garden will keep wildlife out of the area, home to rare and regionally significant species.
She said any tenant will generate destructive traffic and she’d like the 95-year-old building torn down.
“Sometimes we have to weigh down on the side of wildlife. Everything seems to be for people and we want to take everything,” Chapman said.
“The animals aren’t going to care whether they’re very pleasant teenagers or not. Once you put a lot of people in there it’s no longer an area the wildlife can use.”
Authority chief administrative officer Chris Firth-Eagland said the plan acts on direction from directors in April to seek out a tenant to avoid the centre’s demolition.
He said he believes it’s reasonable within those parameters, but wants to ensure the public gets its say before any major steps are taken on what is likely the last call for the building.
A report scheduled to go to authority directors tonight recommends staff co-host an open house with the school at the Artaban Road centre as part of a public consultation process that would likely see a decision made by the end of the year.
“I don’t want a broken nose over it,” Firth-Eagland said. “I don’t represent the community. I represent the process to evaluate it and I want to make sure the community has the chance to look at it carefully,” he said.
“Whichever way it goes, I hope people aren’t angry, but rather, thoughtful.”