Turn Parkside high school into affordable condos, says Dundas group

Parkside Secondary is up for sale. A Dundas group wants to turn it into affordable condos and community space. The city wants to make it a cemetery.

The city wants to turn part of the land into a cemetery

A Dundas group would like to see the Parkside Secondary building, shown in this file photo, become affordable condo units, as well as restaurant and office space. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

They fought to keep Parkside Secondary open in Dundas. Now, a group of Dundas citizens wants to turn the former high school building into an affordable housing complex that includes a café and office space.

A group of about nine residents want to see the school's former classrooms become affordable condo units. It also envisions office space and community meeting space, and a restaurant or café in Parkside's former library.

The plan would keep the building standing, said community volunteer Robert James. And it would keep the character of the residential neighbourhood, which sits alongside Grove Cemetery and the Dundas Driving Park.

"It's a good publicly owned building on publicly owned land," James told CBC Hamilton on Sunday. "We don't want to see it become less than that if we can help it."

What if they got it and couldn't do it?- Arlene VanderBeek, Dundas councillor

The timing is right to make the pitch. Parkside closed in June, and its students transferred to the new Dundas Valley Secondary School on Governors Road.

The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board is now offering the 1.6-hectare (four-acre) property to its preferred list of buyers — other school boards, McMaster University, Mohawk College and others. The city is ninth on that list, said Arlene VanderBeek, Ward 13 councillor.

The city wants to buy the land and turn half of it into cemetery space, VanderBeek said. The other half would be sold to a developer who will maintain the neighbourhood's quiet characteristics.

VanderBeek's biggest fear is the same as James's — that the land will fall into the hands of a private developer who puts a high-rise residential building there.

"My focus is on protection for the neighbourhood and the community," she said.

The city voted on Friday, at a school board properties sub-committee, to put in an offer on the Parkside land. City councillors will likely approve that at the general issues committee on Feb. 3, then city council on Feb. 10.

Right now, we're interested in publicizing the proposal so the ideas are out there.- Robert James

James would like to see the city sell it to his group. VanderBeek said she isn't against that idea, but it's riskier than the cemetery plan.

James's group plans to sell off part of the property to be as many as 10 small residential lots. That would fund the project in the Parkside building.

But VanderBeek worries that if that doesn't work, the land will fall into the hands of a private developer. And that outcome is less predictable.

"It's not that it isn't a good idea," she said of the group's plan. "Absolutely it is."

But "I have confidence that what the city is looking at can happen, whereas what this group of citizens is proposing is a gamble right from the beginning.

"What if they got it and couldn't do it? We'd be back at square one."

James envisions as many as 30 condo units that sell for about $150,000. He acknowledges that the cost of development "is not pocket change."

"Right now, we don't have that kind of money," he said. "We'll be looking for ways to get that money. Right now, we're interested in publicizing the proposal so the ideas are out there."

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