Barring a last-minute change of heart, the new public high school in Hamilton’s north end will be built at the existing site of Parkview and King George schools now that the city has shut the door on a partnership at Scott Park.
Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board trustees voted 6-5 on Monday to go with the backup location for the school after more than two hours of deliberations, including a 20-minute session behind closed doors.
While those opposed wanted to continue searching for a bigger property, board chair Tim Simmons said the 3.6-acre Balsam Avenue site is the best available in the area and is near the new Pan Am stadium, Scott Park and Prince of Wales elementary school.
He said the community made it “loud and clear” it wanted the new school to go in a central location between Delta and Sir John A. Macdonald, which along with Parkview are slated to close once the three-storey building opens its doors in September 2016.
“This is the inner city, folks. This is not the suburbs and it has limits, and we have to understand that those limits exist with green space,” Simmons said.
“The green space that’s there needs to be shared by everybody. One of the reasons that it’s such a great part of the city is because people know how to share, people know how to be a community and come together.”
But east Mountain trustee Laura Peddle said the board shouldn’t rush into a decision, suggesting it first see if the province, which is contributing $31.8 million to the school, will allow some leeway on the September 2016 opening deadline.
She said the community, through the accommodation review process, had directed the board to “find a piece of fantasy land” in a central location and should at least be consulted on the Balsam location, which will have one acre of green space.
“They’re going to lose the green space, the beautiful green space that we had hoped for at the King George site that is now going to be facing a stadium that we hear is going to be turned the other way and will be a monster of cement in front of them,” Peddle said.
“And we’re going to build another monster of cement right beside it because we have to go up. So what kind of vision is that?”
Ward 5 Councillor Todd White also wanted to explore other options, including still building at Scott Park without the city’s formal participation.
He said the board could expropriate the 1.5 acres of the land there for the school as originally planned and try to lease up to an acre of land from the city, which is building a $17-million recreation centre on land to the immediate east of the 5.2-acre park.
“There’s a lot of property to play with. There are a lot of options. It doesn’t have to be a partnership with the city,” he said, suggesting the Balsam site could be converted to green space.
But Alex Johnstone, trustee for wards 11 and 12, said she fears any more delays in finalizing the site could jeopardize the provincial funding and that approval for expropriation at Scott Park isn’t a certainty.
“This is something we can be proud of,” she said of the plan to build on Balsam, citing its proximity to parks and other facilities. “It’s not our first choice but it’s far from the last and I think this is something we can all get behind.”
While trustees must still confirm the decision at this Monday’s board meeting, they face some tight deadlines should they not do so.
Senior facilities officer Dan Del Bianco said the board must begin construction by next summer, a timeline that will require it to have an architect in place by November and obtain demolition and other approvals over the winter.
He said the derailed city partnership would have saved the board about $2 million in construction costs, but the school would have also been three storeys had the plan to build Scott Park proceeded.