School board was offered old knitting mills site

The city wanted the public school board to relocate its education centre at the old Cannon Knitting Mills site in the Beasley neighbourhood.

Councillor says he's disappointed board didn't take it

The public school board discussed moving into the former Cannon Knitting Mill site. (Sheryl Nadler)

City councillor Brian McHattie says he's disappointed that the public school board rejected an offer to move its education centre into a Beasely brownfield site.

The city wanted the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board to relocate at the old Cannon Knitting Mills property at the corner of Cannon and Mary, CBC Hamilton has learned.

Instead, the board voted late Monday night to disband its joint task force with the city and continue with its plan to move to its Crestwood site on the mountain.

The task force was scheduled to report back to the board on June 18. McHattie said he's "really disappointed" that the board made a decision sooner and didn't pick the knitting mill site.

Residents expect their institutions to "take great steps forward to improve the city, and that's what this project would have done," he said.

"The school board seemed to be controlled by the Ministry of Education. That's a challenge they have, no doubt. But we need to find local solutions, and in the knitting mill site, we had that solution."

The board has worked on consolidating its administrative buildings for five years, board chair Tim Simmons said. Throughout that process, most trustees wanted to stay downtown.

But while two mayors got in touch through the years, "there seemed to be no will at the time," he said.

Ministry already approved plan

The board declared the Main Street West property surplus in March 2011. A few months later, council approached the board about keeping its headquarters downtown.

By that time, the Ministry of Education had already approved the Crestwood plan, so any potential downtown plan would have to be similar, Simmons said.

The ministry would not continue to work on the project until the task force reached a decision, he said. And time was running out for the board.

"We'll need to start putting the shovel in the ground this summer in order to get the new building ready in two years," he said.

As for the city's late involvement, "you could argue that we should have intervened earlier on," McHattie said. "But the board was following its own process. Going back at this point is old news."

'My heart went out to Beasley'

Coun. Jason Farr, who initiated the task force with McHattie, said an architect had done preliminary drawings for the knitting mills site, trying to match the Crestwood specifications.

"It's amazing how much we were able to accomplish in such a short time," he said.

As for the city's involvement, "late is better than never," he said. "We still had time and we made the most of the time we had."

Farr and McHattie met with the board in camera at 6 p.m. Monday and left feeling confident, he said. By morning, he learned the board voted differently.

"My first reaction was that my heart went out to Beasley," he said. "Even though they didn't even know they were on the shortlist for this huge rejuvenation effort, my first thought was 'man, this could have been something very special for a very special neighbourhood.'"

McMaster brings more jobs

The current education centre site has been sold to McMaster University for its new McMaster Downtown Health Centre. That $85-million project will bring about 450 jobs downtown — 200 more than are at the current education centre.

"What's taking our place at Bay and Main is actually going to do more to revitalize the downtown core than any education centre could have done," Simmons said.

The board still has some downtown services, such as offices at Jackson Square.

The board's departure isn't a blow to the downtown, McHattie said.

"Downtown Hamilton's doing great," he said "A lot of people want to be here. Unfortunately the school board's not one of them."