Councillors overcame financial and "trust" issues to further a partnership with the Hamilton-Wentworth District School board on a joint community centre-high school facility.

According to the plan accepted by the city's general issues committee on Thursday, the city will devote $17 million for recreation centre at the old Scott Park school site, where the plans board to build a new lower city high school.

The motion will go in front of council on Sept. 11.

The facility is the major piece in the development of a so-called Pan Am precinct around the new stadium.

Bernie Morelli, councillor for Ward 3, where the facility would be located, said the project is an opportunity create a "legacy" for the area.

"We need a facility in the lower city for seniors," Morelli said, making his case to the rest of the committee. 

In the end, he had the support of fellow lower city councillors Jason Farr, Chad Collins and Sam Merulla, who submitted the motion, as well as Mountain councillors Terry Whitehead and Tom Jackson.

"I'm committed to helping the revitalization of the downtown," said Jackson, who represents Ward 6.

The motion outlines the sources of $17 million in funding. The first $9.45 million would come from a variety of sources — among them, $3.4 million in future development charges, $1.2 million from a special fund for a central Hamilton seniors' centre, $2.85 million in transfer money from the province, and $1.5 million from council's strategic reserve, and $500,000 from Ward 3's capital reserve.

The remaining $7.55 million would come from the city's Future Fund.

'Unanswered questions'

The vote came after more than four hours of presentations, question and debate on the topic. Much of the discussion was centred on whether the partnership between the city and the school board would be beneficial for both parties.

In a presentation with other city staff, city manager Chris Murray told councillors that the city could expect to save $2-3 million dollars on the project if it teamed up with the school board.

However, Ward 9 councillor Brad Clark, who voted against the motion, said he worries having to co-ordinate with the school board could still lead to cost overruns.

The city, he reminded councillors, is bound to work with carpenters with the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America Local 18 — an arrangement that he warned could cause friction with the HWDSB.

"I still have many unanswered questions about this partnership," said Clark, who added he believes should the city should be a lower city seniors' centre on its own.

Councillor Sam Merulla responded by asking councillors to overlook "trust issues" they have around entering into a partnership with another organization and to push staff to develop a "watertight" memorandum of agreement with the school board.

"Let's be professional and let's do our job."

Timelines

The HWDSB trustees voted in February to ask the city team up in the building of a collaborative "civic/recreational/educational project." The high school component of the project will replace Sir John A. Macdonald, Delta and Parkview high schools, which are scheduled to close in 2015.

The board voted last May to shutter those schools and is looking to expropriate the non-city-owned land at the Scott Park property.

The HWDSB has received $31.8 million from the province to build the 1,250-student school, but that money is contingent on the school opening in September 2016.

Before the vote, HWDSB director John Malloy told councillors the board wishes to build a facility in tandem with the city, but needs to know this month whether the city is onboard.

Malloy said the HWDSB is only interested in building on the Scott Park site if the city is involved, and is considering alternative locations in case the city pulls out of the partnership.

"We are under a very strict deadline that must be met for the province," he said.

Malloy appeared annoyed after Morelli asked whether a memorandum of agreement could include an "escape clause" that would allow the city to pull out of the partnership at a later date and build the recreation centre on its own.

In response, the school board director urged councillors not to enter into the joint project if they don't wish to stay the course.

"To engage in the process when there isn't the desire here would really be foolish."