By Richard Leitner • METROLAND WEST MEDIA GROUP
The chair of Hamilton’s public school board is hoping to place a staff member on the city’s heritage committee to try to avoid a repeat of controversies like the one over plans to demolish Sanford Avenue School.
Tim Simmons said while board and city officials talk regularly, participation on the committee is another way to keep everyone informed as trustees eye more school closures to reduce empty seats.
He will seek trustee approval on Feb. 25 for a motion asking the city to provide a spot on the heritage committee for the board, which also faced 11th-hour opposition to last year’s sale of the downtown Education Centre, since demolished by new owner McMaster University to make way for a health campus.
The committee presently has 11 citizen members and three city councillors.
“If we can notify and give them information well in advance of things happening, then I think that can only bode well for the city and the board,” Simmons said.
“I think having a staff person is better than having a trustee there because it’s not my intent to politicize the situation around heritage.”
Ward 1 Councillor Brian McHattie, who sits on the heritage committee, said he had heard about Simmons’ proposal and “it sounds positive.”
“I would support altering the terms of reference for the committee should the school board motion come to pass,” he said in an email.
Trustees in December 2011 approved the demolition of Sanford – built in 1932 and last used for education in June 2010 – but heritage advocates only began fighting the plan in November after the board applied for a demolition permit.
The 2.5-hectare site is also home to Norman Pinky Lewis Recreation Centre and sits next door to Cathy Wever School, built to replace Sanford. It is set to be converted into playing fields for Cathy Wever students, although a portion is earmarked for a potential $15-million expansion of the rec centre.
Trustees in December rejected a call by a resident to reconsider the plan and Simmons said he expects the demolition to proceed this month.
Opponents argue the school is a historic landmark that should be preserved, possibly by converting it into condominiums.
But Simmons, who is the area’s trustee, said the school community showed strong support for demolition at a joint meeting held by the city and board in November 2011, and revisiting the matter would “just be delaying the inevitable.”
Under provincial regulations, to allow for housing or another use, the board would first have to consult the school community before declaring the property surplus for potential sale, he said.
“We’d be just going in circles,” Simmons said. “They’ve told us loud and clear that, yes, this is our land and our property for Cathy Wever School and we want to keep it for the school, so it would stop there.”