Only pieces will remain of school board headquarters

It's a five-line excerpt from a William Wordsworth poem, and soon, it'll be one of the only remaining remnants of the public school board's education centre on Main Street West.

Board saving a poem, a statue and other mementoes before building is demolished

A statue donated by Dutch Canadians will be one of the few remaining pieces of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board education centre.

It's a five-line excerpt from a William Wordsworth poem, and soon, it'll be one of the only remaining remnants of the public school board's education centre on Main Street West.

The quote from Splendour in the Grass, a poem about not grieving the past, is one of the small pieces that will remain of the 1966 building when it's demolished later this year. The demolition permit was issued by the City of Hamilton on May 2.

The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board education centre (CBC)

The permit, granted to the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, will be transferred to McMaster University, which will demolish the building at 100 Main St. W. to make room for its new $85-million McMaster Downtown Health Campus. 

No demolition firm has been hired so the demolition date is unknown, McMaster officials said Friday.

The board must vacate the property by Aug. 1, said Don Hall, senior facilities officer. It will move into its three interim locations in July until its permanent location is ready in 2014.

The board plans to salvage a small number of items from the building, Hall said.

"Though nothing can bring back the hour

Of splendour in the grass,

Of glory in the flower,

We will grieve not, rather find

Strength in what remains behind…"

         — Walt Whitman

Among those items:

  • Two marble panels, donated by former trustee Harry Paikin, in the lobby. The panels depict Splendour in the Grass and a poem by Paikin.
  • A statue donated by Dutch Canadians in 1967 that sits on the west side of the building.
  • A frieze depicting scientists, doctors and other occupations over the main entrance.
  • Metal door handles on the building's main doors that bear the insignia of the former Board of Education for the City of Hamilton.
  • A time capsule buried under the cornerstone of the current building, laid by then-Minister of Education Bill Davis. The capsule contents are unknown.
A frieze above the main doors

A board-hired consultant worked with architects to do an architectural record of the building, Hall said. That's when the pieces to be saved were identified.

The salvaged parts will be incorporated into the new education centre building. Plans for the Crestwood location include a "historic meeting room" that will contain much of the memorabilia, he said.

Material from the old time capsule from 1966, which will be opened in a board ceremony this year, will be included in the time capsule of the new building, Hall said.

The bulk of the move will be in July. The board is moving to three interim locations — the Standard Life facility, the Stelco Tower and the Robert Thomson building.

The door handles from the former Board of Education for the City of Hamilton

McMaster is funding the interim move as part of the board's agreement to vacate by Aug. 1, Hall said.

The demolition is disappointing for Matt Jelly, a downtown resident who was part of a community movement to save the building.

"I'm in favour of McMaster's project in concept," he said. "I want it downtown and I want it to work. But I think that's ultimately a reusable building with no real feasibility studies done on whether it could be used."

The footprint of the existing building doesn't fit McMaster's purposes, said Andrea Farquhar, assistant vice-president of public and government relations.

The new facility will have 54,000 patient visits per year, so "it has to be a building that meets the health-care standards and kinds of facilities that patients expect to see," she said.

"The way it is, the building is configured to be an office building. It's not the kind of building that could be renovated to meet the needs of what this facility is."

A joint city/board task force is looking at ways to keep the board of education headquarters downtown. The task force will report its findings to the board on June 18.