School closures bring hope of new inner city school

Three inner city high schools are going to close, but the notion of building a new one is easing some of the pain, some local advocates say.

Bitterness of closures is eased by promise of a new high school

Three inner city high schools are going to close, but the notion of building a new one is easing some of the pain, some local advocates say.

The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board's committee-of-the-whole voted Wednesday to close Delta, Sir John A. Macdonald and Parkview secondary schools.  It also voted to build a new $32-million high school in the lower city pending provincial funding.

A new high school would alleviate some concerns about the inner city being a void for high school education, said Paul Johnson, Hamilton's director of neighbourhood development strategies.

"That's the kind of investment that creates a sense of stability and acts as an anchor in a neighbourhood," Johnson said.

The decision, which still has to be ratified by the board on May 28, comes after more than a year of public meetings, community presentations and work by a north end accommodation review committee.

Trustees voted unanimously to close three aging schools and open a new one in September 2015.

The process has been challenging, board chair Tim Simmons said.

"Sometimes it's emotional and sometimes it's exhausting," he said. "It's a lot of hard work not only for the board and staff but also the community."

Steve Calverley is the parent of a Delta Secondary student and chair of the South Sherman Community Planning Team. He understands declining enrolment and the increasing number of empty spaces, he said.

"The board reached the best decision that can be reached given the constraints it was working under," Calverley said.

David Derbyshire, a community development worker, still worries about the impact on inner city kids. Too few students graduate already without having to travel farther. The decision is "a bitter pill," he said.

But "if there's going to be a new school, that's a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down," he said.

Trustees didn't want to leave the city's poorest students without a high school, Simmons said. They voted with that in mind.

"What we really want is a revitalization of our schools in the inner city and we've already been doing that at the elementary level," he said. "We have some of the best school facilities in the lower city."

Coun. Jason Farr is disappointed with the impending closure of Sir John A. Macdonald, located in his ward, and Delta Secondary, where he was valedictorian in 1984.

But a new high school "could be a real community draw wherever it lands," he said.

Coun. Sam Merulla, whose ward includes Delta Secondary, is "incredibly annoyed" by the decision. He feels the school was targeted from the beginning.

"I've made public that I would reject any inner city school closing," he said. "I'm not shocked by the decision, and quite frankly, I predicted it."

The new school will cost an estimated $41.5 million, which the board must apply to the province for by May 31. About $32 million is for the building and the remainder is for work on the remaining schools and the acquisition of six hectares of land.

The board is also deciding the fate of Hill Park, Mountain, Sherwood and Parkside high schools. That decision will also be ratified at the May 28 board meeting, Simmons said.