Hamilton's public school board is hurrying to ask the province for money for its new downtown school project, fearing it's the last chance before a provincial election.
'Depending on what we put there, it can frame future growth in that area.' - Todd White, HWDSB chair, on the Sir John A. Macdonald property
The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) needs several million to consolidate Hess Street and Strathcona schools in a new building on the Sir John A. Macdonald high school site.
It's a key piece of land in the heart of Hamilton, and a project that could include social services and housing.
But the provincial election will be on or before June 7 next year. The board fears there's only one more chance for the province to help, but that deadline is imminent, said chair Todd White. So it's scrambling to find partners for the project, and will hold a special meeting Aug. 8 to approve the ask.
"From our point of view, it would just be a big question mark," White said of whether the province would help after June 7. "When there's a change in government, it's always a big question mark."
There's a lot at stake, White said — and not just for students.
The 3.2 hectares of land is bordered by York Boulevard, Cannon Street West, Bay Street North and Hess Street North.
It's "the pinnacle of the entire core," White said. "Depending on what we put there, it can frame future growth in that area."
There are other broader impacts as well. The board plans to include other services for the diverse and primarily low-income neighbourhood, such as social services and affordable housing.
'On our own, it's not a very strong business case.' - Todd White
The board only has about a month to draft a rough plan of what that would look like, White said.
"On our own, it's not a very strong business case."
The board will meet Aug. 8 at 4 p.m. to add the project to its capital wish list. If trustees approve, the board will submit that ask to the Ministry of Education by Sept. 8.
In recent years, the Ministry of Education has offered money in the winter too. But that was a four-year program, White said, and it's over now.
The money for winning projects will flow in early 2018, the ministry said in an email.
Hamilton Centre MPP Andrea Horwath, also leader of the Ontario NDP, was among those critics.
"I'm pleased that they've seen the error of their ways when it comes to the shutting down of Hess Street School," she said in June. "However, we'll see."
Sir John A. Macdonald will close in 2019 and the students will move into a new high school across from Tim Hortons Field stadium in central Hamilton.