Despite renewed student pleas, Hill Park will close in 2014

Some Hill Park Secondary supporters say they’re disappointed and disillusioned after the school board rejected a last-ditch attempt to keep the school open one more year.
Hill Park supporters Margaret Toth, Jessica Toth and Candi Pollington protest at the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board meeting on Monday. The board voted to close Hill Park in 2014, a year ahead of originally planned. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Some Hill Park Secondary supporters say they’re disappointed and disillusioned after the school board rejected a last-ditch attempt to keep the school open one more year.

Hundreds signed a new petition to keep the school open in general. And if the board must close the school, some said, it should at least do it in 2015 as originally planned, not 2014.

But Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board trustees rejected both notions on Monday, ratifying an earlier decision to close the school in 2014. Grade 10 student Jessica Toth, one of about Hill Park 30 students and parents in the audience, was angry.

“They pick their favourite schools” to support, Toth said.

“Half of the time when they were talking about Hill Park, they didn’t care about what happened to the students. We care about Hill Park. It’s not fair to us.”

Trustees voted last May to close Hill Park, Barton and Mountain high schools and build a new school southeast of the Lincoln Alexander Parkway. That initial decision included the schools closing in 2015.

But trustees voted earlier this month to close Hill Park next year instead and send most of its students to a “holding school” at the Barton site — an interim location until the new school is built. The board is still negotiating for land.

The new closure date means many students who went into Grade 9 this year thinking they had two years will now only have one, said Jessica’s mother Margaret. And many students who thought they’d have more time with the school’s popular Art Smart program will have a year less than anticipated.

Among them is Tara-lynn Poulter, 16, who attended Monday’s meeting. Poulter struggles with anxiety and agoraphobia, and planned to finish high school at Hill Park.

“After all the accomplishments I’ve made, if I have to go to another school, that’s upsetting,” Poulter said.

She especially wanted to take photography at Hill Park, which has a dark room. That’s not the case at Sherwood, which she’ll have to attend next year.

The course is “by far the best I’ve been in,” she said.

Dwindling student numbers

Trustee Lillian Orban, whose ward includes Hill Park, tried to put off the closure.

“This community has a right to be heard,” she said.

But director John Malloy told trustees that the “holding school” at Barton makes sense. Half of the current Barton students will attend the new school, whereas only 10 per cent of Hill Park students will. The interim location, he said, is about "forming a new school."

Students are leaving Hill Park and Barton already, Malloy said, and it’s getting harder to offer course options. That decided it for Ancaster trustee Alex Johnstone.

“Given that we are losing students, I would like to move forward,” she said.

Closing the school without the land

The board is negotiating with Shermal Estates for land at the corner of Rymal Road East and Upper Sherman. It expects to have a letter of agreement in the next two months, said Daniel Del Bianco, senior facilities officer.

Monday’s decision gives students certainty, said chair Tim Simmons.

“(They) know what the future’s going to hold for them, so they can make competent decisions for their children’s education, and for students to make informed decisions on where they want to go,” he said.

But Coun. Scott Duvall, who attended part of Monday’s meeting, thought the 2014 closure was premature when the board hasn’t even secured land for the new school.

“Anything can fall down,” he said. “They’re making decisions based on presumptions that something is going to happen the proper way.”  


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