Updated

Closed east end elementary school will become a hub for Indigenous services

The former St. Helen school will host an Indigenous health centre and day care provider.

'We’re all excited because this is one big step,' says Indigenous health centre chair

The city will buy the former St. Helen Catholic elementary school on Britannia Avenue in McQuesten and resell it to become an Indigenous community hub known as Biindigen. (Google Maps)

The city plans to buy a long-closed Catholic school in Hamilton's east end and resell it as a hub for Indigenous services.

City council voted Wednesday to buy the former St. Helen's school at 785 Britannia Ave., which now serves as a resource centre for the McQuesten neighbourhood.

The De Dwa Da Dehs Nye>s Aboriginal Health Centre wants to move there, Coun. Sam Merulla said. So does Niwasa Kendaaswin Teg, an Indigenous early years provider.

Together, they'd create the Biindigen Community Hub. Biindigen means "welcome" in Anishnaabe.

The McQuesten neighbourhood will still use the building, said Merulla. "No one will be displaced."

With this current plan, the city will use some of its $8 million Best Start reserve as leverage to buy the property from the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board (HWCDSB). 

Then De Dwa Da Dehs Nye>s and Niwasa Kendaaswin Teg will buy the building from the city with money secured from upper levels of government.

The hub will bring together Indigenous and non-Indigenous providers, Merulla said. And "it won't cost the general levy a cent."

The building hasn't operated as an elementary school since 2009, Merulla's motion said. The HWCDSB has been subsidizing its operating cost ever since.

Grace Mater, director of children's and home management services, said the plan is to either build a new structure around the former school, or to demolish the current building and construct a new one.

Early estimates show the project will cost around $12 million, said Pat Mandy, chair of the De Dwa Da Dehs Nye>s board. The agencies involved may have to fundraise too.

This is the first step in a plan that will get the health clinic out of a building it's long since outgrown, Mandy said.

"We're all excited because this is one big step."

The health clinic owns its building at 678 Main St. E., she said. But it's gotten so cramped that the board is renting office space in other locations.

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Samantha Craggs

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Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca