Special Report: Education

Community Engagement to Achieve Green Space for Dr Davey Students

The Beasley community is an active, engaged, committee community, and will welcome the opportunities and challenges of finding the best solution.

By Chris Erl
Published February 20, 2014

Though still early in the process, my training in urban planning has already provided me with a new way of looking at the world. When complex urban issues arise, I try and look at a number of elements before making a decision.

Every problem spot or challenging design issue has a history, a reason for being the way it is, a surrounding community that may have contributed to it's decline or serves as the agent fighting for its improvement. Understanding the big picture helps us understand why each brushstroke, each pixel, each frame is the way it is.

Now that I'm a registered candidate for Public School Board trustee in Wards 1 & 2, I've begun to receive questions from the community about just such complex urban issues. When I received this question via Twitter from John Neary, my mind immediately jumped into planning mode:

John and other members of the Tweetosphere provided a number of options that I examined. Ranked, not in order of importance, but in the order I received them, they are:

  1. Expropriate the Lockwood Motors site next door
  2. Reduce the size of the school's parking lot and convert it into green space
  3. Work with MPP Andrea Horwath and Hydro One to move the existing transformer to the west of the property
  4. Use Beasley Park during recess

These are great solutions and show that members of the community recognize this to be a problem and have already begun formulating ideas on how to rectify it. Politics, to me, is about being the facilitator between great ideas and the means by which those ideas become reality.

Beasley has been let down by the HWDSB before when the Board decided to locate its new HQ at the Crestwood site near Limeridge Mall, rather than become a partner in the revitalization of the Cannon Knitting Mills on the other side of Beasley Park from Dr. Davey. We can't let that happen again.

As per my training, I immediately pulled up one of the city's maps from the area and created my own rough rendering of the locations in question.

Dr J. Edgar Davey School area (not to scale)
Dr J. Edgar Davey School area (not to scale)

Here are some specifics on the locations noted in the map.

Lockwood Motors

Situated on the north side of Kelly Street is Lockwood Motors, a company that was founded in 1946. Originally located at the site of the new Eastgate Square, the auto body shop now occupies buildings on either side of Ferguson Ave N. The building directly to the north of Dr. Davey is the company's paint shop, which separates the school from a large car lot surrounded by barbed wire.

The lot in question is, in reality, two lots. Straddling both 154 and 156 Cannon Street East, the Lockwood Motors site is governed under a J (Light and Limited Heavy Industry) zoning classification but receives two different assessments.

156 Cannon, the eastern half of the property that stretches from Kelly to Cannon along Ferguson, is listed as Commercial Taxable land and has been valued at $510,500. 154 Cannon, the western half of the property that sits directly beside Beasley Park, is listed as Commercial Vacant Land and has been valued at $288,000.

In total, the property has been assessed at $798,500.

Parking

The Dr. J. Edgar Davey School/Beasley Community Centre parking lot contains about 118 spots broken up between the main lot on Wilson Street and 17 spaces on Kelly Street to the north of the building. The parking area to the west of the building is significantly larger than each of the distinct play areas.

Contrary to popular belief, there are no parking stipulations written into the collective agreements covering Hamilton's public school teachers. After a through examination of the previous contracts, I can emphatically say there is absolutely no mention of parking for teachers, administrators, or staff.

The parking requirements come from the City. Section 5 of the Zoning Bylaw indicates that each elementary school must have 1.25 parking spots for each class room, while secondary schools must have 3, plus 1 for every 7 seats in an auditorium.

The site's official plan indicates that, because of these requirements, there are 23 spaces for the school and 95 spaces allocated for community centre parking.

Hydro One's Elgin Transmission Station

The Transmission Station directly to the east of the Dr. Davey parking lot is operated by Hydro One and is the primary station of its kind in the area.

The specifics of moving such a station are difficult to ascertain, though there have been some recent attempts to move smaller operations. Hamilton's Horizon Utilities spent upwards of $2.5 million last year relocating transformers in the Central Neighbourhood.

MPP Andrea Horwath is a great ally to have in the fight to move or alter this station and a conversation can be broached if this is the best option available.

Beasley Park

Beasley Park is a 1.4 hectare (3.46 acre) space cutting through the Mary/Cannon/Wilson/Ferguson block. Having already been slated as a priority project for redevelopment by both the City and the Beasley Neighbourhood Association, there is a considerable amount of potential in further cooperation between the HWDSB, the City, and the BNA regarding use of the space for the community, the school, and the city.

If selected as the location for some outdoor activities by students, the HWDSB could partner with the city and community to help with the park's redevelopment.

Based on the existing circumstances and the proposals already presented, I devised a number of potential options for the HWDSB and community to examine during the next term of office. Again in no particular order, they are:

  1. Use the Lockwood Motors area for school green space
  2. Use the Lockwood Motors area for parking, convert the existing school parking lot into green space
  3. Convert the existing school parking lot into green space and acquire another local parking lot for school/community centre parking
  4. Work with Andrea Horwath and Hydro One to move the existing transmission station beside the existing parking lot and convert it into green space
  5. Work with Council to change parking bylaws
  6. Investigate using Beasley Park as a play area during recess

So let's examine each of these options.

Lockwood Motors Area

1. Use the Lockwood Motors area for school green space

Option 1: Use the Lockwood Motors area for school green space
Option 1: Use the Lockwood Motors area for school green space

2. Use the Lockwood Motors area for parking, convert the existing school parking lot into green space

Option 2: Use the Lockwood Motors area for parking, convert the existing school parking lot into green space
Option 2: Use the Lockwood Motors area for parking, convert the existing school parking lot into green space

Both options including Lockwood involve either expropriation or substantial negotiation. Expropriation may throw the business into chaos and threaten jobs, which would be irresponsible if there are other options available.

That's why working with Lockwood Motors to secure another location for their paint shop and car lot would be the first course of action. There are already grounds to initiate that conversation.

The Lockwood property is located in the Downtown Hamilton Community Improvement Project Area (DHCIPA). This means that it has already been identified as a site that needs improvement and any associated development charges are waived.

The Downtown Hamilton Secondary Plan encourages conversion of industrial and warehouse buildings to residential and commercial uses, but does also indicate there is a strong desire to "support the upgrading and improved maintenance and appearance of underutilized buildings and vacant sites in the area."

The DHCIPA specifically notes the importance of renewal in the Beasley Neighbourhood and provides a great opportunity to rebuild bridges with the City.

Using the Lockwood Motors site for green space may be problematic. The environmental quality of the property is in question. With cars come dangerous chemicals, leakage, and so on. We may need to invest in an environmental audit of the property before any steps are taken.

That's why it would be preferable to work with Lockwood to use their existing car lot as parking, leaving the existing parking lot at the Dr. Davey site for green space.

Expropriation should, realistically, be a last resort. The pushback from Lockwood against such action could send the costs skyrocketing. Though the property has been valued at just under $800,000, expropriation could end up costing significantly more when we factor in legal fees and assorted other costs.

School Parking Lot

3. Convert the existing school parking lot into green space and acquire another local parking lot for school/community centre parking

Option 3: Convert the existing school parking lot into green space and acquire another local parking lot for school/community centre parking
Option 3: Convert the existing school parking lot into green space and acquire another local parking lot for school/community centre parking

5. Work with Council to change parking bylaws

These are feasible solutions and can work in tandem. Working with the Ward 2 Councillor and Hamilton's city planners, we can push the city to change the parking bylaw requiring the number of spots it does.

The 95 spaces present on the lot for the Beasley Community Centre takes away from space on which students can play, which is unfair considering the number of surface parking lots that exist in the downtown core.

This will require considerable collaboration with municipal officials, who have already indicated a willingness to adopt new urban planning principles as was displayed with the passing of the city's ambitious Official Plan.

The focus of this option is whether or not to expropriate a nearby lot for our parking needs for the time being. This is all dependent on the speed with which the city is willing to change their bylaws.

If the city is working on this issue presently and can provide a timeframe in which an amended bylaw will be passed, then we may be able to forgo using another site for official parking and indicate to staff and visitors that off-site parking is available in the community.

If changing the city's bylaws will not occur in a timely manner, then we may be forced to use another site for 'official' school/community centre parking and convert the existing lot into green space.

Ultimately, this will require a shift away from a parking-centric mentality that reflects a trend in urban planning that is equal parts deference to existing trends and a feeling of helplessness with regard to challenging the dominance of the car.

Hydro One

4. Work with Andrea Horwath and Hydro One to move the existing transmission station beside the existing parking lot and convert it into green space

Option 4: Work with Andrea Horwath and Hydro One to move the existing transmission station beside the existing parking lot and convert it into green space
Option 4: Work with Andrea Horwath and Hydro One to move the existing transmission station beside the existing parking lot and convert it into green space

As I noted in my description of the site, it is difficult for me to determine if this is possible. If the community determines this is the best course of action, then we can strike up a conversation with Andrea Horwath to discuss the potential moving of the site, the costs associated, and a timeframe for completion.

This does provide an opportunity to expand Beasley Park, which would go a long way to helping fulfill the city and community's plan to improve the park. Adding green space to the park will be great as it will provide both a space for students to play during school hours and a place for members of the community to gather every other time.

Beasley Park

  1. Investigate using Beasley Park as a play area during recess

Option 6: Investigate using Beasley Park as a play area during recess
Option 6: Investigate using Beasley Park as a play area during recess

Many people spoke up on Twitter about the SAGE program at Strathcona using Victoria Park for play. The program's handbook even indicates that the school's proximity to the park is a major plus. The handbook also sets out the parameters by which the program's use of Victoria Park can work, noting that they need parents for supervision.

With community involvement, setting clear boundaries to ensure the safety of students, and collaboration with the city, the use of Beasley Park may, realistically, be the most cost-effective and simple short-term solution we have available. The boundaries noted above roughly follow the paths in the park, which are great existing lines that students can be reminded to stay within.

Each of these potential solutions are workable, but obviously not without further input from the community, Board staff, and local elected representatives. That's why I believe there is another option.

Community Green Space Committee

7. Establishing a Dr. J. Edgar Davey/Beasley Community Green Space Committee

The best option is to establish a committee with the express purpose of gathering community input, determining the most workable solutions, and working to get the job done.

Now, I have heard the pessimist complaints about committees, but well-run, efficient committees have the potential to effect meaningful change. The Beasley community is an active, engaged, committee community, and will welcome the opportunities and challenges of finding the best solution for their community.

We already have a number of potential solutions, each of which the HWDSB staff can examine and provide cost analysis/time frames on. I believe the best course of action is to solicit opinions and work as a community to develop a solution. There is a solid foundation on which we can work and I'm certain that no matter what the community decides, we'll work to correct the problem.

Chris Erl, a born and raised Hamiltonian, has wanted to change the world ever since becoming the Westwood Elementary School Chief Returning Officer in Grade 5. After receiving both a B.A. (Honours) and M.A. from McMaster, Chris decided to purse his passion and study urban planning.

In addition to serving on the City of Hamilton’s LGBTQ Advisory Committee, Chris is also a registered candidate for Public School Board trustee in Wards 1 & 2.

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted February 20, 2014 at 10:29:27

This is great Chris. Turning the existing parking lot into greenspace seems at first glance, to be an attractive solution as it would mean the children have their playground and their greenspace in close proximity to the school.

Most of all, it's good to see so many possible solutions from the community.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 20, 2014 at 10:45:22

This really seems like a no-brainer to me: use Beasley Park. It's right there! Strathcona School has used Victoria Park for a decade and it works great. At Strathcona, students have to cross Strathcona Ave N at Lamoreaux St to get to the park. Strathcona is much busier than the dead-end Kelly Street between Dr. Davey and Beasley Park.

If Dr. Davey isn't already on a "balanced day" schedule (two longer food/recreation breaks instead of a lunch and two short recesses), it might make more sense to do that to accommodate travel time between school and park.

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By John Neary (registered) | Posted February 20, 2014 at 10:57:13 in reply to Comment 97745

Ryan, there isn't really any significant travel time from Dr. Davey to the park Unlike at Strathcona the school property is directly adjacent to the park, not across the street.

On the other hand, Beasley Park is significantly smaller than Victoria Park and is less well-suited to the needs of schoolchildren. Three cul-de-sacs (Kelly St off Mary, Kelly St off Ferguson, and Elgin St off Cannon), the Cannon Knitting Mills, the Lockwood Motors property, the old community centre, and the transformer station all cut into the footprint of the park. The amount of space that is located at a safe distance from roads is very small -- by contrast, Victoria Park is a complete rectangle (on a larger footprint) and the "deep" part of Victoria Park is enormous. The green space in Beasley Park is not large enough to support a soccer field.

As a parent in the neighbourhood (whose older child might attend Dr. Davey in the autumn), I would say while the park is the simplest solution it is also the least effective. The root of the problem is that the HWDSB did not invest enough money in providing an adequate footprint for this school and then misused the footprint they have by using more of it for parking than for a schoolyard. The better solutions address these errors directly rather than trying to use the park as a schoolyard for which it is poorly suited.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 20, 2014 at 11:01:44 in reply to Comment 97749

Thank you for the extra context - it makes more sense to me now that everyone hasn't already converged on just using the park.

I do think we need to keep the pressure on the City to revise its parking requirements, particularly in the lower city where space is constrained and there are more transportation options. Insane parking requirements have killed or badly deformed a depressing number of downtown developments, not just schools.

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By John Neary (registered) | Posted February 20, 2014 at 11:10:09 in reply to Comment 97752

Ryan, I didn't mean any criticism. And while the school does indeed use the park at times, it's not the same as having a proper, enclosed schoolyard. I completely agree that the parking requirements are a broader problem, but I am glad to see Chris drawing attention to the effect they have on our schools because I don't think that has ever been mentioned in the public discourse. Many of us have presumed that the huge parking lots are there by the choice of the HWDSB when in fact that it is the City that is to blame.

Thanks for posting Chris' article.

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By StoneMonkey (registered) | Posted February 20, 2014 at 17:59:30 in reply to Comment 97753

The Parking lot at Dr. Davey is poorly designed. Often times the lot is full and cars are lined up on the street waiting to pick up kids. It needs to be torn up and redesigned.

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By John Neary (registered) | Posted February 20, 2014 at 10:46:14

Every problem spot or challenging design issue has a history, a reason for being the way it is.

Unfortunately, in this case the reason is that the HWDSB thinks it is OK for downtown schools to have postage stamp schoolyards. Dr. Davey was rebuilt in 2010; they would never build a suburban school with a yard that small.

It is good to see that after decades of neglect we finally have a candidate for school trustee who is willing to fight for the rights of downtown children to have the same facilities as children elsewhere.

Bravo to Chris for putting forward a number of constructive solutions. I expect that the BNA will be a partner in lobbying Jason Farr (re: the parking bylaw) and Andrea Horwath (re: the transformer station) to help to make something constructive happen here.

Similar problems exist at a number of other lower-city schools; the first one that comes to my mind is Hess St., which isn't even located beside a park.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted February 20, 2014 at 11:26:11 in reply to Comment 97746

Chris might want to get Ryan to update his profile page, though... I was disappointed to read that the candidate was a 2nd-year undergrad, until I realized that this biography was written back in '08 when he posted his first article to RTH.

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By C. Erl (registered) - website | Posted February 20, 2014 at 12:05:45 in reply to Comment 97756

Second year was a great time! Thanks for pointing out my outdated bio. I've now updated it to reflect how far I've come since second year.

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By StoneMonkey (registered) | Posted February 20, 2014 at 18:04:02

Hey Chris, Great article thanks for raising all these points.

Regarding your committee I would say there's already one in progress through the City's Parks Department.

It would be great to have more school board support on that committee. If you're interested you can contact Le Ann Seely "Seely, Le Ann"

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