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Survey does little to settle Dundas Valley centre debate

Advisory board meets tonight to consider Maplewood Hall’s fate

By Richard Leitner, News Staff

About the only clear result from public consultation on a Hamilton Conservation Authority proposal to lease its former Dundas Valley outdoor education centre to a private school is that there’s little support for mothballing the facility.

Just one of 106 people who chose to submit questionnaire responses and written comments following a Nov. 5 open house favoured putting Maplewood Hall into storage, one of four options offered for the Artaban Road building.

Leasing to Strata Montessori Adolescent School got the most support, with 57 respondents choosing that option, but only 18 of those indicated they weren’t connected to a Montessori school.

Thirty-one people preferred demolishing the building, formerly known as the Resource Management Centre, while 14 wanted it upgraded as a rental facility at an estimated cost of $218,000.

One respondent needed more information before making a choice, while another argued for a fifth option – partnering with the public school board to once again offer outdoor education there.

Chief administrative officer Chris Firth-Eagland said he’s surprised more people didn’t participate and the authority will continue to accept public input until directors meet to determine the fate of Maplewood Hall on Jan. 9.

“It doesn’t give any definitive direction on its own,” he said, suggesting those with a strong opinion were more likely to take part.

“There may be a difference of opinion on when Maplewood has reached its serviceable lifespan.”

The survey results comes as the authority’s conservation advisory board meets at 7 p.m. tonight to consider which, if any, of the options to recommend to the board of directors.

As of Monday, eight people had registered to make a deputation, including the Montessori school’s principal, Tony Evans, and Thomas Beckett, a retired judge and former Ancaster deputy reeve who helped found the authority, serving as its first chair.

Beckett, one of the few survey respondents to consent to have his name made public along with his comments, opposes the lease proposal, which will generate an estimated profit of $400,000 over 15 years.

His submission calls the plan “a breach of faith” with the Anglican diocese, which sold the building and 13-hectare to the authority in 1968 for $30,000 – “a fraction of its market value” that reflected the desire to keep it “open space available to the public in perpetuity.”

“The Conservation Authority is not a business where making a profit is the object,” wrote Beckett, who supports a staff proposal earlier this year to demolish the hall and return the area to nature at an estimated $138,000 cost. “It has a very different mandate.”

All but one of 38 people who identified themselves as being connected to a Montessori school favoured the lease, but 18 who said they had no connection did so as well.

“I think the Montessori Philosophy will enhance the facility,” wrote one of the latter, whose name wasn’t disclosed. “The children will become adults who will appreciate the natural environment and be advocates for the mission of the H.C.A.”

The lone Montessori-connected respondent to oppose the lease favoured demolition, calling the school’s plan for an organic garden with chickens and barnyard animals “over the top.”

“As a teacher I am aware of how destructive a school population can be on an area,” wrote the respondent, indicating he or she had taught at the Colin Macdonald Montessori School in Dundas.

One respondent favoured keeping the building, but urged the authority to issue “a public, advertised call for proposals before focusing on only one or a few unsolicited proposals.”

Overall, 49 per cent of respondents ranked environmental/geographical criteria as most important in any decision, with 22 per cent choosing social criteria and 17 per cent financial ones. Twelve per cent said all three were equally important.

The valley centre served as a home base for public outdoor education from 1970 to1993, when it was forced shut by provincial funding cuts.

Vehement public opposition killed two previous proposals to lease the building – first to a yoga group and then to an Ancaster private school – and it was rebranded as a banquet hall in 2003.

But it’s been mothballed for the past two years because its septic system no longer meets regulatory standards for weddings and other large functions.

The Montessori proposal would set a maximum occupancy of 60 students in Grades 7 to 9 and eight staff, and see the school look after day to day maintenance, including of the gravel road leading to the building.

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