Special Report: Education

Crestwood Plan: Bad Decision Based on a Flawed Process

It's not too late for the Board to step back and reconsider a decision on which future Hamiltonians will look back with amazement and disgust.

By Ryan McGreal
Published February 14, 2012

As the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board reluctantly reveals its planning documents, it is increasingly clear that the Board's plan to sell the Board of Education building and move to a new facility on the site of Crestwood School is a bad decision formed under a flawed process.

So far, we have access to an evaluation matrix comparing 18 prospective sites against 12 weighted criteria and detailed evaluations of the 18 choices.

Several glaring issues are immediately obvious.

No Option to Stay

First, the list of alternative locations under consideration does not include the option to stay at 100 Main Street West. This makes it difficult to assess whether and how any of the alternate locations is better than the option to stay and renovate.

Also confounding the issue is the fact that the cost estimate of $16 million in capital expenditures and $28 million for cumulative operating costs is not broken down by facility but provided as a lump sum.

Accessibility

Second, the weighted scores for the various criteria are suspect. For example, Crestwood has a higher score for "accessibility" than Jackson Square, which seems dubious at best.

Both sites have excellent automobile access with abundant nearby parking, but Jackson Square also has excellent transit, walking and cycling access. Crestwood is a relatively short distance from the Limeridge Mall bus terminal, but is poorly accessibly by other modes.

More fundamentally, a central location is intrinsically closer and more accessible city-wide than a peripheral location.

It may be that Jackson Square's lower score is due to the "Terrible" rating it received for "Off site parking rates" and "Sufficient for parking needs" - categories that carry the second-highest and highest weighting ranks, respectively.

Given that downtown Hamilton has some of the most abundant and affordable all-day parking of any large Canadian city, including a large lot directly under Jackson Square, this assessment is difficult to take at face value.

Two Equal Candidates

Third, even if we set aside these questions about the weighting and scoring, Crestwood is not significantly better than the next highest option, Jackson Square. They have nearly identical scores: 86.69 and 86.49 respectively.

Given that the weighting must necessarily have an element of the arbitrary to it, the Board has a responsibility do better than naively pick the highest score when evaluating the results.

Jackson Square Removed

Even though Jackson Square is effectively tied with Crestwood, it was removed from further consideration without any explanation in the published documents.

The October 18, 2010 presentation to trustees lists the sites with overall scores over 80, but drops Jackson Square from its site review even though it scores higher than the other sites that were carried forward.

Community Feedback Ignored

According to Ward 1/2 Trustee Judith Bishop in a recent essay, "There were community consultations and the Board heard clearly that staying in the downtown core was seen as important."

However, community feedback is not even one of the selection criteria, which leaves me wondering why the Board bothered.

Poor Transparency

Too much of this process was conducted away from the public. Even the reports on which Trustees made their decision were withheld for several months before the Board finally published them.

Similarly, the video recordings the Board was supposed to have made of the presentations and delegations related to the Education Centre process in 2007 appear to have gone missing.

Not Too Late

It's not too late for the Board to step back and reconsider a decision on which future Hamiltonians will look back with amazement and disgust.

Please make your voice heard:

tim.simmons@hwdsb.on.ca, robert.barlow@hwdsb.on.ca, studenttrustee@hwdsb.on.ca, judith.bishop@hwdsb.on.ca, ray.mulholland@hwdsb.on.ca, todd.white@hwdsb.on.ca, laura.peddle@hwdsb.on.ca, lillian.orban@hwdsb.on.ca, wes.hicks@hwdsb.on.ca, alex.johnstone@hwdsb.on.ca, jessica.brennan@hwdsb.on.ca, karen.turkstra@hwdsb.on.ca, dlcouncil@hamilton.ca, lbroten.mpp@liberal.ola.org, ahorwath-co@ndp.on.ca, presdnt@mcmaster.ca

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted February 14, 2012 at 14:06:16

Thank you for highlighting the deceptively "objective" evaluations process. As with any overly technical approach to legitimizing a decision, this one successfully obfuscates the process by breaking it down to a large number of component parts.

This may sound face-valid, but it belies the simple reality that someone still arbitrarily chose weights for each factor.

Which is to say, if daddy wants parking, daddy's gonna get parking.

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By CaptainKirk (anonymous) | Posted February 14, 2012 at 14:30:18

And it's not just that "accessibility" scored higher, but significantly higher, thereby giving Crestwood the slight edge over downtown 86.69 to 86.49.

As you'll recall, the Jackson Sqaure site outscored Crestwood in 10 out of the 12 criteria, ans still was not chosen!

The only other category that Crestwood scored higher was "site size, configuration and topography" which makes me wonder as well. Any Stelco Tower or City Centre location could hardly be limited by size, and how it can lack in configuration for offices is beyond me, since Stelco Tower is an office building and City centre can be configured pretty much any way you'd want as they did with temporary city offices.

"Topography" ? No idea. your guess is as good as mine, but could Crestwood's topography be so much better that it necessitates a move of the HWDSB's offices form downtown to the mountain?

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 14, 2012 at 15:37:04 in reply to Comment 74362

LOL. I still laugh at the topography one. Doesn't the 4 storey waterfall in Jackson Square count for anything??

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By Wha? (anonymous) | Posted February 14, 2012 at 14:34:53

From the 18 detailed evaluations found here:
http://www.hwdsb.on.ca/aboutus/education-centre-project

Proximity to Administrative Staff Residences, Priority: B
Proximity to Student Population, Priority: D

That pretty much says it all.

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By rednic (registered) | Posted February 14, 2012 at 15:04:04 in reply to Comment 74363

That was always my assumption i surprised any body had the nerve to put it in writing.

Does this mean if i want a job as an administrator at the board of Ed i need to move to Limeridge ? I kind liked it here in ward 3 !

While for a building of this type doesn't need to be close to students ... making a requirement for it to be close to staffs homes boarders on a conflict of interest. The worst part is i bet they all drive the 2 blocks to work.

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 14, 2012 at 15:39:10 in reply to Comment 74368

I actually think it does need to be close to students and that that should rank of much higher importance than locating it close to staff. After all, students are the ones with parents who need access to the HQ for public meetings, private meetings etc.....

Should all of the office towers in downtown Toronto be moved to the Bridle Path so they're closer to the employees residences??

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By Wha? (anonymous) | Posted February 14, 2012 at 15:34:57 in reply to Comment 74368

I disagree. It's not just an office. If you go to the HWDSB website they run all kinds of programs and services out of their admin sites.

If the workers have to drive a few extra minutes on our 1-way downtown freeways to get to work (and pay for parking like anyone else), then so be it. Students (ESL, Special needs, etc, etc) should come first. Period.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted February 14, 2012 at 17:41:02 in reply to Comment 74369

It's not just an office. If you go to the HWDSB website they run all kinds of programs and services out of their admin sites.

Exactly, especially now since one if the justifications for this move is to consolidate all their programs and services in one building.

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 14, 2012 at 15:39:52 in reply to Comment 74369

Give me the $150,000+ salary and I'll happily pay the parking tab for 10 staffers for the next decade.

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By Simon (registered) - website | Posted February 14, 2012 at 16:17:38

Finally - we have a breakdown of the weighted scoring model. I was going to start to nit-pick at it - but I thing the point, as has been raised is that it is fairly arbitrary and only useful to narrow selection down to the top options.

The board gets this right on their website when they say "It is important to note that the site criteria was not the sole determinant used to select a future site for the Education Centre. The criteria was used to identify and narrow down the top 10 sites. Those sites were then examined in more detail regarding availability as well as program suitability. From there, the Board directed administration to develop business cases on its top three sites".

HOWEVER

  1. Renovating and expanding their existing site appears to have never been analyzed.

  2. Ranked #1 Crestwood, #4 Jerome and #9 West Harbour are selected as finalists. Jackson Square is dropped all together - as is #7 City Hall. No explanation - except apparently City Hall "compromises program needs"

So where is the report, meeting minutes, discussion records that address the missing information?

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By mkuplens (registered) - website | Posted February 14, 2012 at 17:03:41

Quite remarkable, also: the Jackson Square analysis claims it has zero convention/meeting facilities. Perhaps the researcher was unaware of HECFI across the street?

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted February 14, 2012 at 18:31:25

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By rednic (registered) | Posted February 15, 2012 at 08:02:16 in reply to Comment 74379

Well considering that Allan's profession was outed by the spec during the loujack case. Perhaps he could move the good sheppard up to the mountain. Crestwood seems like a good location. Then the board of ed could consider those nice buildings on cannon as a new head quarters.

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By Allan Taylor (anonymous) | Posted February 15, 2012 at 09:22:08 in reply to Comment 74393

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By z jones (registered) | Posted February 14, 2012 at 21:07:44 in reply to Comment 74379

Allan, why don't you just give it up already? I'm sure there are lots of other places on the interwebs for you to pollute.

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By who's Allan (anonymous) | Posted February 14, 2012 at 21:32:59 in reply to Comment 74385

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By thespian (anonymous) | Posted February 14, 2012 at 21:09:05

"Lies, damn lies, statistics and....decision matrices".

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 15, 2012 at 08:09:28

I just received an email response from Trustee Laura Peddle:

Ryan, thanks for writing. As you likely know, I was against the move to Crestwood. And against closed door mtgs - I remain opposed to both. I also agree the detailed criteria and process was flawed.

The video that's been circulating is amazing!

I cannot speak for others but this Trustee is ready to rescind the board resolution of March 28, 2011 and then properly, transparently reconsider the criteria applied.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted February 15, 2012 at 08:53:04 in reply to Comment 74394

The only problem I see with this is I'm not sure how much political capital she has with her colleagues. I'm sure Ray Mulholland will be with her, but I can see the bag-packers voting against her out of spite and defiance.

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By theOther (registered) | Posted February 15, 2012 at 10:48:37 in reply to Comment 74395

Agreed. Having had the opportunity to observe Trustee Peddle through the South ARC process as she has blown the whistle on the board and senior staff, I have to believe she has made many permanent enemies. I'd suggest that factor is irrelevant though: the board is shamelessly close-minded and perhaps irredeemably secretive. But thank you Laura Peddle for resolutely speaking truth to power.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 15, 2012 at 10:18:13 in reply to Comment 74395

Note: I have expanded this comment and posted it as an article.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2012-02-15 13:22:35

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted February 15, 2012 at 09:35:17

…the weighting must necessarily have an element of the arbitrary to it…

Hmmm, arbitrary???

Or perhaps slanted?

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By Malex (anonymous) | Posted February 15, 2012 at 09:56:33

Have you seen Graham Crawford's latest posters? Spot on as usual!

https://www.facebook.com/100MainSt/posts/350588838295306

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 15, 2012 at 10:27:12

I just received a reply from Trustee Judith Bishop:

I know that Chair Tim Simmons will respond fully to your email on behalf of all trustees. I am writing you as you are a resident of ward 1 and will make a few comments.

Jackson square was taken out of the equation because it involved leasing. It was seen as more expensive by the consultant and it would not receive the support needed for the business plan by the Ministry of Education, as they regard leasing as too risky. There is some reference to this in the 2010 consultant's report, slide 47.

In 2007 the Board had already determined that a renovated Education centre and an addition (so as to be able to close and sell the other administrative buildings) would cost $55 million, money the Board did not have.

Slide 47 of the 2010 presentation has a 25-year cost of occupancy chart comparing several options and three bullet points:

  • New ED Centre - Build and Own provides lowest occupancy cost
  • Lease or Occupancy Agreement options reduce capital requirements
  • But Lease / Occupancy Agreement occupancy costs are high due to higher interest costs and developer / investor return on investment requirements

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted February 15, 2012 at 17:54:57 in reply to Comment 74402

The 25- year costs are presented as follows:

Status Quo: 77.2 million
Status Quo plus additional retrofit: 85.9 million
New Ed Centre (built and owned): 56.5 million
New Ed Centre (Standard Lease): 80.3 million
New Ed Centre (Occupancy Agreement): 75.2 million

Of course there's no explanation of where they got the lease costs from, but then again what do you expect, it's a powerpoint slide, and not a report. A report on leasing v. owning would have been nice. But then we might find flaws in their numbers...

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted February 15, 2012 at 11:15:46 in reply to Comment 74402

Unfortunately, their decisions do not happen in a vacuum, and since we (the public) have to finance the destruction of their old building as well as pay a second time for land that we already own, their math is not correct.

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By Chevron (anonymous) | Posted February 15, 2012 at 11:54:57

They obviously like Lime Ridge Mall better than Jackson Square.

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By TreyS (registered) | Posted February 15, 2012 at 12:21:45

Wow and Judith Bishop represents Wards 1 & 2. Not very progressive of her, maybe next time you guys should get your informed before you blindly re-elect someone just because they say they are aligned with the NDP.

Also NDP members of the Board Jessica Brennan (I believe she was the person quoted she had already packed her bags for the mountain) Alex Johnstone, there are more too, I'd like to see how they voted. Since the Board is more than half NDP I believe.

So don't bother asking for help from Horwath on this, they're all buddies.

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted February 15, 2012 at 12:49:24

Judith Bishop represents Wards 1 & 2...maybe next time you guys should get your informed before you blindly re-elect someone...

Elect? She was acclaimed!

And a point to the initial article: I forwarded this thread to a friend of mine, a trustee on a school board in S. ON, and he commented that re: "the word 'accessibility' my assumption is that refers to accessiblity for individuals facing disabilities (i.e. wheel chair access, guide dogs etc) and not accessiblity via bus/car."

Which is something to consider.

He also pointed out that the aversion to leasing is probably due to a case where an (unnamed) Board is known to have signed a very expensive long-term lease, a decision guided by poor forecasts of the property values in the area.

Comment edited by Borrelli on 2012-02-15 12:50:01

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By TreyS (registered) | Posted February 15, 2012 at 19:10:05 in reply to Comment 74410

If Bishop was acclaimed then I think Wards 1 & 2 should be doing the least complaining. Bishop was all in favour of the mountain back in 2008. You handed over her position back without so much as a challenger, why I bet because she posed with Horwath and Christopherson in her campaign materials. Keep voting NDP how's that working for you?

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 15, 2012 at 13:04:14

I just received a response from Board Chair Tim Simmons:

Thank you for your correspondence, as well as your interest in the future of our city and the HWDSB Education Centre.

Our consideration of a new Education Centre has been a long process many years in the making. Faced with $28 million in deferred maintenance costs, discussions begin in March 2007 about the possibility of consolidating and replacing the Board's non-instructional facilities. During this time, we certainly did consider restoring 100 Main Street West and heard from delegations calling for the same. But ultimately, the cost of this option would not be fiscally responsible. We are continually aware that we can only pursue this plan with Ministry of Education approval.

The current Education Centre is facing substantial renovation costs in order to meet current building standards. In addition to the Education Centre, we have additional administrative facilities that also require significant upgrades to structural, mechanical and electrical systems. All these current administrative facilities will be combined in a new administrative building. Proceeds from the sale of excess administrative sites can be put back into our schools.

As we listened to our public, stakeholders told us they wanted HWDSB to remain in the downtown core. We took this advice quite seriously and worked hard to find a suitable, affordable downtown location that would allow us to consolidate our administrative facilities. After considering sites including the West Harbourlands and many others, we were unfortunately unable to make that vision a reality due to the costs involved and HWDSB's consolidated administrative needs.

These needs include but are not limited to a Boardroom complex, meeting rooms, computer services, mail and printing, maintenance workshops, warehousing and much more. The Crestwood site was narrowed down during an extensive analysis of potential sites throughout Hamilton.

When Trustees declared 100 Main Street West surplus to HWDSB needs in March 2011, it marked the early stages of a potential move of the Board's administrative operations to the Crestwood site, subject to Ministry approvals. This decision followed a lengthy consultation process that led to the development of a Vision and Clarification Document, in which community stakeholders agreed upon the long-term direction and vision for a new Education Centre.

The process also included the study of the program and space requirements in a new administrative building, the development of criteria to use when selecting a new site for the building, and the creation of a business case to ensure fiscal responsibility. We have not been doing this alone, and we been working closely with our City of Hamilton partners during this process.

We continue to listen to our community, so that public input can guide the design of the new Education Centre. We held a recent architectural open house during which we heard from the public about the new Education Centre, and an online survey on the topic remains open until the end of February at http://www.hwdsb.on.ca/aboutus/feedback/open-house/

We have taken many years to consider potential sites, building design, funding options, location within the city and more. In the end, however, to be fiscally responsible we needed to consolidate our administrative operations. Our most affordable option is to go to a site we already own.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted February 16, 2012 at 09:11:11 in reply to Comment 74411

Ok. I really want to vomit now. This $28m in deferred maintenance keeps coming up as the trigger for the consolidation 'discussions' that have lead us to the point of destroying a beautiful landmark building, and a key public institution fleeing the lower city.

This $28m figure was generated by a ReCapp audit. To say that this figure is highly dubious is an understatement.

When I wrote my article yesterday, I characterized this number as 'one of' the chief rationales. I am getting the increasingly sickening feeling that it may in fact be 'the' rationale. It certainly seems to be the key issue that precipitated this entire mess. If that's the case, this is nothing short of a scandal.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 16, 2012 at 09:36:24 in reply to Comment 74469

I asked Judith Bishop a follow-up question:

Do you have a cost breakdown for the $55 million to renovate and add to the current building? How were the costs determined? Did it involve an on-site inspection of existing facilities?

Bishop replied:

The existing facilities were inspected by an outside consultant hired for the purpose.

I replied:

Thanks. Can we see the reports? So far, all we have is a slide show, a decision matrix and one-page criteria tables for the 18 sites. That's pretty hard to go on.

We'll see.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted February 16, 2012 at 10:25:46 in reply to Comment 74474

We definitely need to see that report, but this isn't just about the Education Centre assessment, which was indeed done on an independent basis. The $28m number is the ReCapp-based estimate for all their non-instructional buildings (either 6 or 7, I've seen both numbers in various reports).

In addition to the consultants report on the Ed Centre, we also need to see the ReCapp data on the other non-instructional buildings.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted February 16, 2012 at 09:20:51 in reply to Comment 74469

Is this the audit that suggests, among other idiocies, completely replacing terrazzo floors once they reach a certain age (based on age in years and not in observed condition)?

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By highwater (registered) | Posted February 16, 2012 at 10:38:19 in reply to Comment 74471

Yes.

In fairness to ReCapp's designers, the program is largely intended to trigger on the ground inspections when building components reach the supposed end of their lifecycles, although you could probably fault it for lumping flooring materials such as terrazzo in with less durable materials.

And in fairness to staff, the Ministry did mandate boards to use this software as a means of gauging building maintenance and operating costs so that apples were being compared to apples province-wide. However, once you start analyzing the ReCapp data, you begin to realize it's more like comparing pixie dust to unicorn farts, so far removed from reality are some of the items ReCapp flags.

Reasonable people should never have let such skewed data form the basis of a crucial policy direction, especially when they are now aware that the Ministry itself has recognized the problems with ReCapp and is in the process of developing a new system.

Comment edited by highwater on 2012-02-16 10:39:44

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted February 16, 2012 at 08:17:49 in reply to Comment 74411

This is the exact same canned response I got on Feb 2nd.

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By TreyS (registered) | Posted February 15, 2012 at 13:17:20

Make sure none of these trustees get to work in their new building, vote them all out next election.

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By TreyS (registered) | Posted February 15, 2012 at 19:03:24

and they can also make decisions that normal property tax paying businesses have to consider, because they don't pay taxes they can sprawl over 10 acres of land.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted February 15, 2012 at 21:39:36 in reply to Comment 74444

And pave over green space for their free parking and not have to worry about the run off.

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