McMaster finds new space for its downtown centre

McMaster University has found new space for the hundreds of employees who currently work in the old courthouse.

McMaster University has found new space for the hundreds of employees who currently work in the old courthouse.

There will be an announcement soon regarding McMaster’s new downtown office space and location for its continuing education programs, spokesperson Gord Arbeau said.

He wouldn’t specify anything about the new location, or exactly when the news will break, but “it will be soon” and it will be downtown.

“We’re proud to be part of the urban landscape downtown and it’s certainly our intention to continue to do so,” Arbeau told CBC Hamilton.

McMaster currently leases about 100,000 square feet in the city-owned old courthouse at 50 Main St. E. The university had hoped to buy the building from the city, but the city learned in August 2012 that it needs the space back for its new Provincial Offences Act courtrooms.

McMaster represents a large chunk of downtown office space. About 200 university employees work at the site and 4,000 continuing education students attend classes there.

According to McMaster's website, the downtown centre houses its financial services, Centre for Continuing Education, Foundation for Medical Practice Education, payroll, public relations, Ontario Physician Human Resources Data Centre and university advancement, among other offices.

The city hopes that McMaster will vacate the old courthouse by January 2015. But that’s an “aggressive timeline” the university isn’t sure it can meet, Arbeau said.

“We’ll be moving several hundred staff and relocating a very large and successful continuing education program that follows an academic calendar,” he said. “Moving those folks in 10 or 11 months is challenging for us.”

There are no hard feelings between McMaster and the city over the move, Arbeau said. McMaster has been using the old courthouse since 2000.

“The city continues to be a great partner with us on this,” he said. “We understand that they have specific needs and the building suits those needs, and they’re the owner of the building.”

The city has to borrow $27 million to move its courtrooms from the John Sopinka Courthouse across the street. It originally planned to sell the building for $5.6 million, a staff report shows.

It leased the space to McMaster for about $180,000 per year. It learned in August 2012 that the province would not renew its lease at the John Sopinka Courthouse because the province needed the space for its own needs.

McMaster is in the midst of building a new $84-million downtown health campus, which will house the city's Public Health Services and the university's departments of family medicine, continuing health sciences education, among others.

It will take Hamilton taxpayers about $1 million per year for 10 years to pay off the debt required to renovate 50 Main St. E., the equivalent of $4 per household per year.

Council is expected to approve the plan at a meeting Wednesday.