Sometimes we have to let it go, but not every time. We need much better cost data before concluding it is infeasible to renovate the Board of Education building.
By Matt Jelly
Published March 08, 2012
I wanted to make a point of clarification to part of today's Hamilton Spectator editorial, "Sometimes, we have to let go".
The author, Lee Prokaska, compares the Ontario Municipal Board decision to approve the demolition of All Saints Anglican Church to the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board's decision to sell the Board of Education building to McMaster University, which intends to demolish it.
Estimates for renovating and adding to the existing centre for board use range as high as $55 million, compared to the $31.6 million estimate to build a new, consolidated headquarters on the Mountain. Where would the money come from for renovation?
The $55 million number cited is not the cost to renovate the building at 100 Main as it stands. That number was quoted from a November 2007 report from the HWDSB. The $55 million would be the cost of building two new buildings.
The report includes the options presented to the board in 2007 at the beginning of this process. Option 3 would include renovation of all existing administrative buildings the board uses (seven buildings at the time) for $44 million ($16 million in renovation, $28 million in cumulative maintenance).
Option 4 includes a renovated 100 Main Street West and is quoted at $65 million. This would have included an 70,000 square foot addition onto 100 Main Street, as well as a 500 spot parking structure, and a 30-bay maintenance facility.
No breakdown of costs is supplied along with these numbers to explain the specific costs, line by line.
How much would a 500-spot underground parking garage cost? Why should staff parking be paid for by the public? Public employees at City Hall, Revenue Canada etc. are expected to figure out their own parking arrangements, at their own cost. Why isn't this the case with the school board? How much does the parking structure add to the overall cost?
Whether 100 Main is saved or not, those questions still remain valid.
I've been told by a Trustee that the board's ReCapp estimate of 100 Main said it would be $17 million. I believe this number was never publicly disclosed. ReCapp software (estimates are produced using software, without an actual on-site assessment) is not completely reliable or accurate and prone to overestimation. The Ministry plans to scrap this system within a year or two, due to the acknowledged problems with the software.
The Spectator editors are entitled to their opinion that we can't save every building. I've gotten used to reading this same editorial in the Spec every time we discuss old buildings. I get it.
In the case of All Saints Church, over the course of the appeal I eventually understood fully the limitations the church was under, and decided the appeal was no longer worth pursuing.
Sometimes we do need to let go. Just not every time.
This case is altogether different than All Saints. One is an earthquake-damaged stone church built 140 years ago, with limited capabilities in terms of reuse. The other is a structurally sound public building that is only 46 years old.
I've put a lot of time and effort into this campaign simply to get the Board and McMaster to take another look at the feasibility of renovating 100 Main Street West. More than anything, I want the true costs thoroughly examined and explained before we decide to demolish it with public dollars.
I want full, open data, all of the numbers verified. If the costs are researched and it proves to be not viable, I can accept demolition. But until then, I can't simply accept that option by default, as so many others seem prepared to do.
Even if the Board feels it doesn't want to remain at 100 Main Street, I want to know these numbers so we can decide whether it's feasible to incorporate this building in the proposed development. We're paying for it, and I think the public deserves to know what's possible.
I'd much rather lose this one on the actual merits than on a number that was not fully researched and is repeated without context.
I would hope the Spectator can do more to examine these options, rather than dismiss them in a few sentences.