George Baier had already lived in two countries and spoke at least two languages when he arrived in Hamilton as a six-year-old. But it was Linden Park staff that helped him learn English.

Baier is an electrical engineer now with two children of his own. But he remembers what it was like, after living in the Czech Republic, Iraq and Montreal, to enter the English as a second language class at the central Mountain elementary school.

“It was a shell shock,” he said. “There’s research done on how moving young children around is not good. Kids need a stable nest. I was stripped of all emotion, if you can imagine.”

Central Mountain ARC

Parents and community members listen to speakers during the central Mountain accommodation review public meeting. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Thirty years later, Baier was one of about 26 who took to the podium at the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board public delegation night for the central Mountain accommodation review committee (ARC). The board is looking at closing Linden Park, Cardinal Heights and Eastmount Park.

Baier argued in favour of keeping Linden Park open, saying that the closure of that school and Hill Park Secondary will decimate his neighbourhood. He’s handed out flyers and put weeks of work into his presentation.

'I couldn't even sleep thinking about this'

“Five months ago, I didn’t even know what a trustee was or what it did,” he said.

But the closure issue “has completely consumed me for the past four to six weeks,” he said. “There have been nights I couldn’t even sleep thinking about this.”

The proposed closure is part of a sweeping study of Hamilton elementary schools. In total, 11 are slated for closure.

In central Mountain, board staff propose adding to Queensdale, Franklin Road, Pauline Johnson and Ridgemount schools, and renovating George L. Armstrong to create a full-day kindergarten class.

The move would save the board an estimated $17.9 million over the next 10 years, staff said. The bulk would come from not having to renovate schools slated for closure.

High school and daycare centre closing too

This is the final year for Hill Park Secondary. The Ontario Early Years Centre in it is also closing, Baier said. If Linden Park closes, the day care centre attached to it will close too. He fears its playground will also disappear. That will empty out a growing community, he said.

“If this school closed and I sat on my butt doing nothing, I’d have huge regrets,” he said.

Even if Linden Park did stay open, it would mean another school community experienced closure. That’s the problem with the ARC process.

“My option pits me against them,” he said of other schools. “I don’t want to do them harm. But if I want my kids to be able to walk 23 seconds to a beautiful school, I have to force my opinion for that option.”

The ARC process needs revamping for that reason, said Monique Taylor, NDP MPP for Hamilton Mountain.

Families attacking families

Families “find themselves attacking other families in the same situation,” she said. “We need to review the entire ARC process.”

She urged the board to wait until after the June 12 provincial election to make any decisions on school closures. The board is slated to vote at its standing committee on June 6, and ratify the vote at a board meeting on June 16.

A different party in power wouldn’t change the reality of declining enrolment and growing maintenance costs, said Jessica Brennan, HWDSB chair.

“The reality is still the reality,” she said. Even with a different party in power, “any real change educationally would probably not happen for a year or two.”

Tuesday's meeting, which drew about 115 people, was the final of three ARC public delegation meetings. The board also held public meetings for west Flamborough and east Hamilton.