Hamilton school board fears election will get in the way of its Sir John A. plan

Hamilton's public school board wants to consolidate two schools on the Sir John A. Macdonald site, with some social services too. But it worries it's running out of time to get money for it.

Board is searching for partners for a project in 'the pinnacle of the entire core'

The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board wants to consolidate two schools on the Sir John A. Macdonald site. But it needs money from the province to do that.

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.

Sir John A. Macdonald school is at "the pinnacle of the entire core," says school board chair Todd White. (Google Maps)

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. 

Some community members criticized the board over its study of west end schools, particularly Hess Street, which many new Canadians attend. Sir John A. Macdonald also has a large immigrant population.

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.

samantha.craggs@cbc.ca | @SamCraggsCBC


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