An 80-year-old Hamilton school may be torn down as early as January, despite the efforts of the city’s Heritage Committee.
Last week, the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) filed a demolition permit for Sanford Avenue School, which will most likely be approved as early as next week.
The plan is to create more green space for the neighbouring Cathy Wever Elementary School, as well as expand the Pinky Lewis Recreation Centre.
'You have to pick and choose what you can keep.' —School board chair Tim Simmons
"You have to pick and choose what you can keep," school board chair Tim Simmons explained.
"In this case, what was best for students and best for the community was to increase the amount of green space and expand Pinky Lewis."
A few days after the board applied for a demolition permit, the city’s Heritage Committee approved a motion to register the school under the provincial Heritage Act. If council had endorsed that move, it would have provided a 60-day protection from demolition.
Due to a miscommunication, the committee was unaware the demolition application had already been filed. Unless the board revokes its application, it’s only a matter of time until Sanford comes crumbling down.
"There’s a lesson here," Councillor Brian McHattie, who sits on the committee, said. "We need to get a lot more systematic about how we learn about these schools and buildings."
Currently, McHattie said, there are about 7,000 buildings on a historical inventory list in Hamilton. In order for these buildings to be protected, council has to pass a motion putting them on registration — protecting them from demolition for up to 60 days — and then eventually have them designated as an official heritage site.
"The cultural heritage protection community needs to step up its game and look at the list, pick off properties to put on the registry and at least get those 60 days," he said.
The Heritage Committee had hoped the school board would put out a call for expressions of interest in the property. One suggestion was to turn it into lofts or condos, like the Allenby School off Locke Street.
Mission Services, a local charitable organization, also considered the building as a potential location for a residence for seniors.
"We wrote to the school board to inquire this summer. They thanked us for our interest, but told us in all likelihood it would be demolished for green space," said Barry Coe, director of community relations for Mission Services.
While members of the Heritage Committee may have felt blindsided by the application for demolition, Simmons said the decision was made almost a decade ago.
"[The decision has] been circulated since 2003 and the demo was publicly approved by the board on November 21, 2011," he said.
The decision to tear down the school in favour of green space was made in consultation with the community and with Cathy Wever students in mind, Simmons said.
He pointed to Adelaide Hoodless Public — which was built in 1911, but still operates as an elementary school — as an example of when preserving historical schools makes sense.
"We do it when it’s good for students and when the school will be around for a long time."
But Councillor McHattie said the end of the road for Sanford is symptomatic of a lack of interest in community heritage on the part of the HWDSB.
"That’s the school board’s style," he said.
"They have no interest in Hamilton other than the education system."