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Brian McHattie2014
Brian McHattie column: School closure approach by City Hamilton, Hamilton Wentworth District School Board irresponsible

Ainslie Wood, Westdale and Dundas neighbourhoods have a lot in common – both with vibrant business areas, McMaster University and spectacular geography strongly influenced by Cootes Paradise Marsh and Forest, and the Niagara Escarpment with Dundas Valley to the southwest and the bay to the northeast.

Less happily, they also share unsatisfactory experiences with the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board’s/Ministry of Education’s school rationalization program. Prince Phillip School in Ainslie Wood has just closed (the last of three schools once open there) with an expansion underway on the cramped George R. Allan (now re-named Cootes Paradise School) grounds.

As you know, high school consolidation has been planned for Dundas at Highland, with Parkside slated to be surplused. In both cases, neighbourhoods may suffer.

The city will be making an offer to the school board shortly to acquire Prince Phillip (situated in Alexander Park).

The neighbourhood is already meeting to develop a re-use plan that includes recreational uses and park expansion options.

The Ward 1 participatory budgeting process is a partial funding source for the school purchase, and is providing funds to improve the new playground at Cootes Paradise School. No doubt funds will be allocated to further support the redevelopment at Prince Phillip.

I recently learned about the “one school – two campus solution” option for Dundas (dundasworks.ca), which takes advantage of the unique characteristics of Highland and Parkside. This is a very exciting idea indeed.

It is tempting to lay blame at the school board’s feet, but we know they are mandated to reduce surplus pupil spaces which results in school closures before receiving new funding from the Ministry of Education.

As a city councillor I must admit that our difficult relationship with trustees has not helped this situation. The current two solitudes approach is irresponsible and penalizes families and neighbourhoods.

It’s an old maxim, but “united we stand, divided we fall” applies strongly in this issue. The most responsible and effective way forward is for trustees, citizens and city council to jointly show leadership and join with our municipal colleagues across the province to visit Queen’s Park demanding a reformed education process.

At its heart must be more funding, more flexibility to implement local solutions and a focus on what is best for families and neighbourhoods. In my view Hamilton city council must take the lead on this initiative.

 

— Brian McHattie is the current Ward 1 (Westdale) councillor. He is running for Hamilton mayor in the Oct. 27 election.

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