Paul Wilson: Decision day for priciest parking lot in Hamilton

The Hamilton board of education trustees want to buy back a high school they sold off nine years ago, tear it down and build a 165-space staff parking lot. It's going to cost millions and tonight they hold the final vote.
The Jimmy Thompson pool has served this city well for more than 80 years. Scott Park secondary school next door got a much shorter run, and now it's in the way. Will it get knocked down for a new high school or for a multimillion dollar parking lot? (Paul Wilson/CBC)

With all due respect, the Hamilton board of education’s decision last week to expropriate the former Scott Park secondary school, tear it down and build a parking lot is just plain wacky. Illegal too, if that matters.

You’ve probably seen the numbers. Cost to expropriate – could hit $2 million, and the owner says he’s had it assessed at several times that. Cost to demolish and build 165 parking spaces – another $2 million. 

The decision is not yet final. The trustees meet tonight to ratify it.

Trustees have a tough job. Declining enrolments, tight dollars, everyone telling them what to do. I bet their heads are spinning.

Sir John A. Macdonald secondary was built to boost the downtown, but it closes in a few years. (Paul Wilson/CBC)

I know mine is. Let’s see if we can figure out how to give these people a hand. Let’s take a drive.

We’ll start right downtown, at Sir John A. Macdonald secondary.  An early option was to consolidate lower-city students here.

Close three, get one

But then the province told the board that if it shut down three high schools – Sir John A,. Delta and Parkview – it could have $32 million for a shiny new one, capacity 1,250 students. 

Delta, the city’s oldest high school, is not so far away from the middle of the lower city. We’ve just driven there and can see it’s still majestic.  Capacity, 1,400 students and it’s only half full.

Google Maps says that if you were a student standing in front of Sir John A. and wanted to take a bus to Delta secondary, the HSR would get you there in 28 minutes.
Delta Secondary, on Main Street East, is the city's oldest high school. It's a beauty, but slated to close. (Paul Wilson/CBC)
But if you wanted to go from Sir John A. to where the board plans to build your new high school, in the shadow of the city’s big new stadium, your ride would be 31 minutes. 

What a shame then that those millions from the province can’t be used instead to revitalize Delta and make it the lower city’s central high school.

And now we stand before that Brutalist wonder without windows, Scott Park. The board closed the school and sold it for $650,000 nine years ago. The board wants to get it back – at a hefty premium – and tear it down for that parking lot. 

It's not legal

Scott Park is hard on the eyes. But a parking lot is worse, especially right there on King East, one of this city’s main arteries. And one other thing – it’s illegal. Zoning for that area does not permit a parking lot as a standalone use.

And here’s our last stop, the front lawn of Parkview secondary. The park it views, right across the street, is Tim Hortons Field, new home of the Cats. Steel beams fill the sky.

Parkview is a vocational school, many of its 250 students with special needs. The board’s plan is to knock it down, along with the just-closed 100-year-old King George elementary that sits right behind it.
Michael Root, teacher/librarian at Parkview, hopes trustees will go back to the plan of putting up a school on the Scott Park site. The parking lot could be at Parkview. (Paul Wilson/CBC)
According to last week’s first-round voting, the new high school will be built here, and its teachers will hike over from a new multimillion-dollar parking lot on King East.

While we’re standing there contemplating all this, out walks Michael Root, a teacher/librarian at Parkview. It turns out he wrote a heartfelt letter to the trustees last week. He’s worried about what interim moves to other schools would do to Parkview kids. 

He’s fine with the board expropriating Scott Park, but not for a parking lot. He thinks the new high school should go there. When it’s done, tear down Parkview, and let that be the parking lot.

Five-storey school 

The board had originally planned to rebuild on the old Scott Park grounds, but changed its mind when the city wouldn’t partner up on the site with a new community centre.

A few trustees are thinking along the same lines as Root, but the idea hasn’t been formally debated. They see a five-storey school on the King East site. 

Root likes that, believing it’s “an architectural opportunity to showcase the importance of secondary-level learning in the stadium precinct.” 

King George elementary opened a century ago. Some board staff are working there temporarily, but when they go off to the Mountain, this would be a great site for lofts. (Paul Wilson/CBC)

The city would need to help make this happen. All that surrounding green space should be open to the students of the new Scott Park secondary. They should have access to the community’s new $145-million football and soccer stadium next door.

And why couldn’t King George school, its century-old architecture intact, survive all this? Board staff are using it now, but will be leaving for new headquarters on the Mountain. Then the board sells this stone-and-brick treasure to a developer for the Stadium Lofts. 

Our drive is over. Now it’s up to the trustees. A week ago they voted to build the priciest parking lot in town. We hope tonight they know there is no shame in changing your mind.  |  @PaulWilsonCBC


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