Yesterday, it was reported by The Spec and CBC Hamilton that the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board had rejected a proposal to locate their new $31 Million headquarters in the Cannon Knitting Mills, a brownfield property at Cannon and Mary Streets, adjacent to Beasley Park and Dr. Davey Public School. The proposal was forwarded by Councillors Brian McHattie and Jason Farr, in a last-ditch effort to convince the Board of Education to remain in the downtown core, rather than move to a new location near Lime Ridge Mall, on the current site of Crestwood School.
As I’ve stated in previous posts and videos, the Crestwood property is home to 7 acres of green space which would be turned into 480 parking spots by the board. Crestwood school, designed by Education Centre architect Joe Singer, would be demolished to make way for the new headquarters.
I believe the School Board and the City had an opportunity to do something truly remarkable- to leverage the significant public investment of building a new HWDSB headquarters to accomplish more than simply building a new building- to remediate a brownfield property adjacent to a park and one of it’s own schools, and to restore a vacant heritage building.
The Cannon Knitting Mills, built in 1854, needs significant investment in order to clean up contamination on the property left over from industrial dyes that were used when the Knitting Mills was still in operation. With the investment that a $31 Million development represents, these contamination issues could have been addressed. All of these opportunities have been squandered by the HWDSB’s vote to cut the process short by 3 weeks. (The task force charged with exploring downtown sites was originally intended to report back with its findings on June 18th.)
This is exactly how large public investments should be leveraged- achieving several community objectives with one development. Killing three birds with one stone. Maximizing public investment for optimal public good. Our need for a new board of education headquarters could have been married with our urgent development objectives.
Instead, the board will only achieve one objective: building themselves a new headquarters, easily accessible by the highway, conveniently located beside a mall. Rather than remediate a brownfield, they will pave over a greenfield. Rather than restore a heritage building, they will demolish another school. Rather than locate the board in an area populated by locally-owned businesses, they will locate the board in an area virtually dominated by corporate chains. Rather than help to redevelop a serially neglected urban neighbourhood, they’ll build the headquarters in a residential neighbourhood, bringing hundreds of cars and trucks into that area on a daily basis.
Ward 7 Councillor Scott Duvall and the Bruleville neighbourhood surrounding Crestwood have expressed concerns about the traffic impacts of this development, but it seems the board continues to ignore those concerns. The concept for this development included very little in terms of public consultation.
As someone who has tried for quite some time to convince our public institutions to do everything they can to mitigate the environmental legacy of our industrial past, I find it particularly disappointing that the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board does not share those same objectives. I find it disappointing that they are not willing to work in good faith with other public institutions in order to make sure the capital investments we make deliver the highest return in benefit to the public. I find it frustrating that our Trustees, many of whom would describe themselves as progressives, do not seem to be motivated to support progressive development in Hamilton. They do not seem to think these broader city-building objectives ought to apply to their narrow institutional ego.
Let’s review what has been decided: The HWDSB is treating neighbourhood schools like Coca-Cola bottling plants through consolidation and centralization. They’ve sentenced their downtown headquarters to needless demolition in order to pay for a new headquarters beside a corporate mall. They propose to fill a residential neighbourhood with unwanted surface parking and heavy traffic. They’ve rejected a proposal to revitalize a vacant brownfield property in our neglected urban core. They’ve voted to shutter 8 highschools and 3 public schools. They’ve ignored and dismissed public engagement that in any way runs contrary to these plans, or raises serious questions about how decisions are made.
Considering all of the above, it just doesn’t feel like this board of trustees is on the same team as the majority of Hamiltonians who expect all public institutions to collaborate in good decision-making.
Building a better city seems to be someone else’s responsibility.