Paul Wilson: Decision day for priciest parking lot in Hamilton
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.