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Sherwood and Westmount top high-school repair bill list

By Richard Leitner, News Staff

Sherwood and Westmount are in the worst shape of Hamilton’s 18 public high schools and are now officially considered prohibitive to repair despite having survived a closure review, a new report shows.

The Mountain high schools are the only two secondary buildings to score “poor” on a facility condition index, a rating that means the bills for deferred maintenance needs are 65 per cent or more of the cost of building a replacement school.

Westmount and Sherwood received “fair” ratings of 61 and 60 per cent, respectively, during the closure review, which exempted Westmount because enrolment exceeded capacity and the city planned to rebuild the neighbouring recreation centre.

Back then, they already had a combined repair backlog of $35.4 million and both were projected to become prohibitive to repair in the coming years, even after Westmount received $5 million in upgrades.

Based on enrolment trends, though, Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board trustees voted to close Barton, Hill Park and Mountain in June 2015 as part of a plan to build a new $25-million high school on the southeast Mountain.

The board recently came up empty on its request for provincial funding for the new school as well as $15 million to $25 million to expand or replace Highland in Dundas.

While the board did get $31.8 million for a high school in the lower city to replace Delta, Parkview and Sir John A. Macdonald, it must now find the money for the two other new schools and repairs to surviving schools.

Senior facility officer Dan Del Bianco, who was a consultant on the closure reviews before being hired by the board, said staff will present a strategy to address repair needs to trustees this school year.

He said the task should be made easier by another round of elementary school closure reviews that will go to trustees on Feb. 11 for approval.

The board presently has $345.5 million in deferred maintenance system-wide, $149.5 million of it deemed critical – items that could close schools if they fail. It receives about $10 million from the province for repairs each year.

“The challenge we have is we have a pot of money that we need to stretch out over all the schools in our inventory, and as we slowly right-size, we can allocate more funds to fewer schools and get to these outstanding renewal needs sooner,” Del Bianco said.

“It’s not intended to be done in one or two years because it’s taken many years to get to this state.”

Board chair Tim Simmons said staff faces “a daunting task ahead” in finding the repair money, but provincial funding for the lower-city high school and an addition to Saltfleet District will free up cash that would have gone toward those projects.

Closure decisions also eliminated $155 million in deferred maintenance and the board can use proceeds from the sale of surplus school sites for the repairs, although the south Mountain high school and Highland expansion or rebuild remain priorities, he said.

“We’re not forgetting all of our other schools that need work,” Simmons said, noting repairs related to health and safety, regulatory compliance and risk of failure take precedence.

Del Bianco said Westmount and Sherwood are structurally sound, with the latter a prime example of having “big-ticket items” that are approaching the end of their life cycle.

“Structurally, the bricks, the mortar for the most part, everything is perfectly fine and safe,” he said.

“It’s just that sooner or later, like everything else, it’s what’s in the ceiling, behind the walls, on the roof. Your shingles need to be replaced, your water heater, all those things that break down in a house also need to be replaced in a school. It just cost that much more.”

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