Board seeks location for new lower city Hamilton high school

Hamilton's public school board is shopping around for property now that it has provincial funding to build a new high school in the lower city.
The province has provided $31.8 million to build a new high school in Hamilton's lower city. In return, three existing high schools will close, including Sir John A. Macdonald. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Hamilton's public school board is shopping around for property now that it has provincial funding to build a new high school in the lower city.

The Ministry of Education approved $31.8 million to build a new school, which will replace Delta, Sir John A. Macdonald and Parkview schools, scheduled to close in 2015.

The board is looking at land central to the three schools, said Tim Simmons, chair of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board. There is no determined lot size.

"The location is primary," said Simmons. "We want to have our schools spread out evenly across the city."

The board voted last May to close the three schools and build a new one for the inner city population. The school was part of a nearly $87-million request to the ministry for capital projects.

The request also included a new high school on the Mountain to coincide with the closure of Barton, Hill Park and Mountain schools. The board will receive ministry funding to buy property southeast of Lincoln Alexander Parkway, but will have to fund the construction itself.

The board also voted to close Highland and Parkside in Dundas, and asked the ministry for a new high school on the Highland location. The ministry did not provide funding for a Dundas high school.

The board is taking into account the unique needs of some inner city kids for the new high school, including higher levels of poverty and immigration, Simmons said. That's why it voted to give them a new high school.

School of the future

"A high school with all the 21st-century amenities, with technology and learning spaces, will give lower-city students the same advantages as other students in the system," he said.

David Derbyshire, a community development worker for the McQuesten, South Sherman and Stadium neighbourhoods, is happy to see the investment.

"The idea of a new school — a state-of-the-art school — for people living in the inner city is outstanding," he said. "It'll bring resources. It'll have facilities that are brand new and have never been used before.

"It'll send a very strong message to students that they're worth it, and it's important we support that message."

Other inner city residents have some reservations.

One big 'mega school'

Sylvia Nickerson, co-chair of the Beasley Neighbourhood Association, fears a "mega school" that gives students farther to travel. She also worries about fewer "community gathering spaces."

"I'm not necessarily ready to condemn it totally, but I have concerns," she said.

Tanya Ritchie, a member of the Dr. Davey elementary school council, worries about "funneling all the kids into a single downtown high school."

She worries about students traveling greater distances, and students "falling through the cracks" in such a large school.

"Whether the province funds it or if the money grows on a money tree, that doesn't make it a good idea."

More details in February

Coun. Jason Farr, who represents downtown's Ward 2, is waiting on the details.

"I'll be interested in seeing the plan for the new super school location," he said. "I have to have some faith that the trustees made the right call on this."

The ministry funding was delayed by about three months. That means the board has to quickly find a location to meet its 2015 timeline, Simmons said. It's too early to say what will happen to the existing properties and sports fields.

Trustees expect to examine businesses cases for the capital projects at a committee-of-the-whole meeting in February.

The announcement also included a $5.4-million addition to Saltfleet District High School and more than $3.5 million to upgrade George R. Allan Elementary School, which will accommodate students after the closure of Prince Philip elementary.

The ministry also granted $9,782,716 to the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board for a new elementary school in Winona.