Trustees vote to look at keeping board offices in core
The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board has agreed to partner with the city to explore options that would keep the education centre downtown.
Trustees voted 8-2 Monday night to form a task force with the city to investigate a second tower at City Hall or other sites in the core as potential locations for its new headquarters.
The task force, which will consist of board members and city councillors, will report back with its findings in a month. The costs will be covered by the city, through accessing ward funds.
The motion came in the wake of a presentation by councillors Jason Farr and Brian McHattie, who urged trustees to reconsider their decision to build the board’s new $31-million headquarters at the former Crestwood school site on the Mountain.
“Consider a future surrounded by businesses large and small,” Farr told the board. “Consider the future of our downtown and where we’re headed.”
The two councillors also reminded trustees the public — that is, “the vast majority” of businesses and residents — is behind the cause.
The public school board is “a major part of downtown,” said Farr. “This is an important opportunity, I think, for all of us.”
The board’s decision, however, appears to clash with an update from board staff also presented to trustees Monday night.
That report details several roadblocks with the City Hall option that came out of a meeting with city staff last week, such as the fact the entire site has a heritage designation that would affect the planning, design and approval of a new board HQ at that site.
Current zoning, moreover, doesn’t permit the proposed building development there, and zoning amendments could take months, according to the report.
For McHattie, however, it’s a moot point.
“We’re aware that there are some concerns about the planning issues,” he said. But those are issues “the City of Hamilton controls.”
“The heritage, the zoning, you have support from council,” added Farr, who also assured the board an inexpensive long-term land lease for the City Hall site could be secured.
“It’s safe to say our monetary expectations are not high,” he said.
While a majority of trustees were behind the city’s plea to reconsider downtown options, there were, nonetheless, some reservations.
“What took you so long?” asked board chair Tim Simmons. “Why now, at the 11th hour, when we already have legal agreements in place?”
Trustee Alex Johnstone, meanwhile, said she was concerned that McMaster University is already “feeling very frustrated” with delays to the sale of the board’s downtown education centre — a condition of the board’s move to a new headquarters.
Mac is in the final stages of negotiations to purchase the board’s current home at 100 Main St. W. Once that deal is complete, the university plans to demolish the Education Centre to make way for a new $85-million health campus in the core.
Both the school board and McMaster plan to move into their new homes in 2014.