City councillors put off making a decision on whether to spend $17 million on a joint high school and community centre in the Pan Am precinct.
Councillors held a special general issues committee meeting Thursday to examine a memorandum of understanding for a joint facility at Scott Park with the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board. The board is currently trying to expropriate about one acre of land in the precinct.
The project would include a community and seniors centre, a soccer pitch, a multi-lane pool and access to the high school's triple gym. But councillors only saw the signed agreement on Thursday, and the city still isn't sure where it will get all the money.
Many said they weren't comfortable moving forward, so the issue will come back to a meeting in August or September.
"I have some huge concerns," said Coun. Brenda Johnson.
"(The agreement) was just handed to me, and it's hurry up, hurry up, let's go."
Coun. Brad Clark of Stoney Creek wondered about putting senior citizens and teenagers in the same complex. That mix hasn't worked at Cardinal Newman, he said.
Other councillors brought up previous agreements with the school board that have been truncated by school closures. This includes a plan to share recreation facilities with Hill Park, which the board voted last year to close.
The agreement is contingent on the board's ability to expropriate Scott Park, the site of a high school it closed in 2001. The board sold the land in 2004. It is now owned by Vancouver developer Jamil Kara, who is fighting the expropriation.
The board has received $31.8 million from the province to build the school, but that money is contingent on the school opening in September 2016. Board chair Tim Simmons said he doesn't believe the referral will kill the project, but the timeline is tight. Board staff will discuss it.
"We're disappointed," he said. "We're going to have to look at that hard timeline the ministry gave us to be open. If things are delayed past August, that's going to put more pressure on us to make sure we can make that timeline."
The complex would be located mostly on land currently owned by the city, which has already identified a need for better recreation facilities in the Pan Am precinct.
Staff are recommending finding the money through various reserves with some of it possibly being added to future capital levies.
Kara said he is planning to build a 207-unit residential seniors care facility on the property, but he can't get city approvals because of the plan with the school board. He's already spent about $900,000 on the project.
Land owner not giving up
The land is worth $47.5 million, he told CBC Hamilton on Thursday. Unless the city can offer him a usable 200,000-square foot building, which he has in the former Scott Park school, he's not interested in changing his plans.
"They figured if they buried me in legal fees that I would curl up and walk away," he said. "I'm willing to throw another million dollars in legal against this."
The board is sold on the Scott Park location because it suits the needs of the community, which said it wanted it there, Simmons said. He would not elaborate on whether the board has a plan B.
The new high school will replace Sir John A. Macdonald, Parkview and Delta schools, which are scheduled to close.