Two competing interests came head-to-head Tuesday evening as a time capsule unveiling at the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board was marked with shouts by protesters.

The board held an open house for staff to say goodbye to its 46-year-old Education Centre building at 100 Main St. W. That event included opening a time capsule placed under the building's cornerstone in 1966.

But about 40 protesters came into the lobby during the event with signs and chants. The group, which was protesting local high school closures and the Education Centre's impending demolition, chanted "What do we do? Stand up, fight back. Education under attack."

"I don't think my intention was to disrupt or heckle, but we heckled," organizer Matt Jelly said. "I'm quite frustrated with the way this has turned out. Just walking through here now with some of our supporters, people can see that this is still a building that's ready to serve."

The board voted last month to close eight high schools throughout the city and build three new ones pending approval from the Ministry of Education.

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Ned Nolan and Chantel Howzer were among the protesters. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

As of July 9, it will also move to three interim downtown locations as McMaster University purchases the property to build its new $85-million downtown health campus.

It plans to move into a new building at its Crestwood location on the Mountain by 2014.

The time capsule was opened by board chair Tim Simmons and director John Malloy. It contained a local newspaper from Oct. 5, 1966 (headline: Woman doctor, 88, slashed to death), coins, a board of education directory and board meeting minutes.

The board has about 20 time capsules in its archives, most from now-closed schools, said John Aikman, manager of school board archives.

Some of the odder items in them:

  • A lead canister that resembles "a Howitzer shell" from the Grange School in Ancaster. It contained 365 pennies, one representing each student at the school.
  • From a school in Waterdown, descriptions of the school written by the students, one of the few time capsules that was not solely focused on the trustees of the time, Aikman said.
  • From Bellmore Public School, early photographs and documents from the six schools that amalgamated to form the larger public school.

Simmons said the day brought "mixed emotions." Staff attended a barbecue that afternoon and had some social time to reflect on the building, he said.

As for the protests, "This is a democratic country. Protest is good. I was an activist for many years myself. Peaceful protest is a good thing in society."

Trustee Lillian Orban said she is sad to see the board leave downtown. In early discussions, she supported staying at the current site. She then voted in favour of the school board headquarters moving to the former Cannon Knitting Mills factory in Beasley.

"I wanted to stay," she said.

"What's done is done, and looking forward will tell us whether we did the right thing."