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Behold the Beauty of the Board of Ed Building

By Graham Crawford
Published July 28, 2011

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, behold:

The Board of Education Building is threatened with demolition by McMaster University. Rather than build in the parking lot behind the building, which will also be owned by McMaster, the university is choosing to destroy a Hamilton landmark.

Hamilton taxpayers will contribute $20 million to help McMaster demolish this building.

Graham Crawford was raised in Hamilton, moving to Toronto in 1980 where he spent 25 years as the owner of a successful management consulting firm that he sold in 2000. He retired and moved back to Hamilton in 2005 and became involved in heritage and neighbourhood issues. He opened Hamilton HIStory + HERitage on James North in 2007, a multi-media exhibition space (aka a storefront museum) celebrating the lives of the men and women who have helped to shape the City of Hamilton.

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By kdslote (registered) | Posted July 28, 2011 at 09:02:29

Thanks for sharing Graham! I think part of the problem with the perception if this building is that most have only experienced it when speeding by on Main or Bay. Most haven't brushed against it or gotten close enough to appreciate the superbly crafted details and beautifully used materials.

I'm hopeful that the building can be saved and re-used. This is a wonderful opportunity to more thoughtfully engage the building with its surroundings by removing some of the landscaping that separates the building from the public realm. It's a chance for McMaster (or whoever ends up with it) to introduce some more intentional public space around the building that will allow its beauty to be better appreciated.

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By tnt (registered) | Posted July 28, 2011 at 09:33:02

Wow, Graham. I usually only get to see your multi-media presentation at ArtCrawls, but I am always blown away by them. I get mixed emotions of shame and hope. Particularly in your pieces about what has been lost. I will confess I've never been in the BoE building, and only gave it a cursory glance as I passed by. Is the bigger issue with the neglect is the one way highway and the single use the property has. I am now planning a visit to the place to see it for myself. In context it is very shameful that this would happen, when we have not only empty parking lots, but an empty mall. Someone with more eloquence than me should email Patrick Deane about this. Wouldn't a university in the mall be good? It works pretty well in downtown Brantford with Mohawk.

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By SpaceMonkey (registered) | Posted July 28, 2011 at 10:06:23

I've never really paid much attention to the Board of Ed. building, and to my eyes, it's not the most attractive building, but the idea of tearing down a perfectly good building really bothers me. Look at all the beautiful stone (is it marble? slate?) on the building. Think of all the materials that went into the building that would just be wasted. It's horrible.
Tearing down a building and building a new one just because you don't like how the original one looks, or because it's easier for you to do instead of updating the original one is pretty low when you're asking for tax payer money to do it. Any steps which McMaster has taken to be "green" would be completely erased by the environmental impact of tearing down and disposing of such a large building, gouging the earth for more materials and then shipping in new materials for a new one.

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By Robbie K (anonymous) | Posted July 28, 2011 at 11:41:13 in reply to Comment 67018

Not sure what is involved in a demo, but I hope to dear God they would reuse and much of that material (in different projects).

I recently watched the building beside lister being torn down from my loft. All the old wooden floor joists they pulled by hand and stacked up.

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By randomguy (anonymous) | Posted July 28, 2011 at 11:36:11

Don't forget the money we have to pay in above market rate rent.

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By H+H (registered) - website | Posted July 28, 2011 at 11:57:17

randomguy

I agree. This deal is not a good one on so many levels.

  1. Destruction of heritage.
  2. Poor environmental leadership/stewardship.
  3. Fiscal - the City has to sign a 20 year lease at well above current market rate in Hamilton.
  4. No new taxes from the developer.
  5. Small increase, if any, in new jobs. I'm not sure if these doctors and healthcare professionals already have jobs in Hamilton. How many are net new job?
  6. Vacating private sector space that does, and will continue to, pay taxes. (Right House)
  7. Vacating private sector space that will be hard to rent. (Right House)
  8. There is no deadline, and therefore no guarantee, that Mac will build on the north parking lot. Presumably, however, they will continue to use the north parking lot for themselves and/or for income?
  9. McMaster wants $20 million from taxpayers to go ahead with the project over and above the rent they will charge us.

And the list does go on.

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By Steve (registered) | Posted July 28, 2011 at 16:05:53 in reply to Comment 67041

A few points of comment.

  1. If private sector space remains empty for what I think is 90 days, the owner can apply for a large rebate on the property tax. So the property tax they pay could be signicantly reduced.

  2. It's worth pointing out the $20M will be essentially the remaining portion of the Future Fund, and Council's track record - Ivor Wynne rebuild - is to provide it as a grant, not a repayable loan.

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By CaptKirk (anonymous) | Posted July 28, 2011 at 12:21:16

H+H, great list!

When his story first broke, I really didn't see any problem other than the BofE moving to the mountain, but H+H's concise list and the videos show why this building must be saved.

Like others here I had no idea how beautiful this building actually is. I've just been blowing past it on the Main st. freeway for the past 3 decades of driving having never been able to really notice its beauty. Yet another compelling reason for two-way conversions.

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By WRCU2 (registered) - website | Posted July 28, 2011 at 13:34:38 in reply to Comment 67044

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By WRCME (anonymous) | Posted July 28, 2011 at 18:09:52 in reply to Comment 67049

insult spam deleted

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2011-08-02 07:11:09

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By Robbie K (anonymous) | Posted July 28, 2011 at 14:17:45 in reply to Comment 67049

Sorry, I have no idea what you are talking about. I was simplying commenting that when a building gets torn down I would hope they (either pre/post/during) that they salvage as much useable material as possible. Obviously the most ecologically sound way would be to reuse the entire building by keeping it standing..

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By WRCU2 (registered) - website | Posted July 28, 2011 at 14:30:31 in reply to Comment 67053

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By WRCME (anonymous) | Posted July 28, 2011 at 18:10:26 in reply to Comment 67055

insult spam deleted

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2011-08-02 07:10:58

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By Robbie K (anonymous) | Posted July 28, 2011 at 18:03:41 in reply to Comment 67055

You're cool.

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By Flamingo Foe (anonymous) | Posted July 28, 2011 at 15:20:14

Well done, Mr. Crawford,

It is my sincerest hope that we can do something to reuse this building while still keeping the McMaster project downtown. Compromise should be the name of the game here.

I would hate to see the façade of the beloved BoE end up lining a ditch on somebody's palatial Ancaster property.

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By WRCU2 (registered) - website | Posted July 28, 2011 at 16:03:47 in reply to Comment 67061

Keep stroking that ego McMeister Mo-Fo...

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By WRCME (anonymous) | Posted July 28, 2011 at 18:11:25 in reply to Comment 67064

insult spam deleted

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2011-08-02 07:10:43

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By Flamingo Foe (anonymous) | Posted July 28, 2011 at 16:24:15 in reply to Comment 67064

Pardon my my small intrusion,
perhaps you will clear up my confusion.
I'm trying hard to figure out,
just what it is you're on about.

Your words make sense each on their own,
but when together they are sewn,
they lack good sense and clarity.
Could you address this disparity?

Seriously, dude, just do me a favour.
Provide the logic that I savour.

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By adrian (registered) | Posted July 29, 2011 at 08:00:00

It's a beautiful building. I've honestly not really understood when people criticize it on aesthetic grounds; to me, it has a beautiful classic but modern appearance. This video really communicates the meaning of the building - what it meant to the people who designed and built it, and what it meant to Hamiltonians when it was built.

It's shameful that an elegant civic building, built to stand the test of time, is being torn down after just 45 years.

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By TnT (registered) | Posted July 29, 2011 at 14:05:42

Got over to BoE today, first time

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By H+H (registered) - website | Posted July 29, 2011 at 14:24:08

Hey TnT

What did you think?

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By Tnt (registered) | Posted July 29, 2011 at 21:02:22 in reply to Comment 67088

I was blown away. I am not an artcitect or engineer, but I have decade and a half experience maintaining old houses in Ward 3 and to these aged eyes the place looks in great shape. I was pushing my 3yearold in a stroller and did notice how non-handicap accessible it was, but did manage to get inside. Just as stunning inside and timelessly geared to education.

You can see the arguments for people to tear down derelict properties: Federal Building, Connaught, Lister, Westinghouse, etc on the point of cost alone. (I don't agree, but I get it).

However, this building is in top shape. I was forbidden from taking photos inside so if anyone has pictures to post it would change some minds I think.

I agree with Mr Jelly's stance on this one. I also understood his point on Rheem, but this should be a no-brainer.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted July 29, 2011 at 16:38:53

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By adrian (registered) | Posted July 29, 2011 at 20:01:15 in reply to Comment 67090

I think this building should be donated to RTH to carry on its left wing causes.

Actually, this blog post - and others about this building - argues that this building ought to be conserved and that our history and traditional civic buildings ought to be honoured.

Sounds pretty conservative to me.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted July 30, 2011 at 14:41:47 in reply to Comment 67094

If RTH took this building over, could it raise the funds to keep it operating/pay taxes?

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By H+H (registered) - website | Posted July 29, 2011 at 18:42:52

A Smith

Great idea. Please call your Councillor.

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By NortheastWind (registered) | Posted July 29, 2011 at 23:19:20

Tear it down, it's ugly. I have thought that all my life. But it needs to be replaced with something great architecturally.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted July 30, 2011 at 12:50:23 in reply to Comment 67099

When was the last time "tearing it down" resulted in a building which was "greater" architecturally? Because fifty years of redevelopment in the core would argue otherwise.

If "great architecture" is to mean anything at all, it has to be able to endure the test of time. Building life expectancies of 30-50 years are antithetical to this idea. Hence the concrete Brutalist monstrosities which surround 100 Main on several sides.

If I thought there was much chance that whatever was built in the place of the Board of Ed was going to stand for a century or more, I might feel differently about this. If I thought new construction downtown in general was going to build anything which would stand as a legacy, I wouldn't be nearly as sour about leaving properties as vacant lots for a decade until they could amass capital and a plan. As it stands, though, there's little doubt that we'll see at least one more 80+ year old building crumble to the ground by the end of the year, and aren't likely to see any new Lister Blocks built soon.

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted July 31, 2011 at 06:45:11 in reply to Comment 67102

I'm no architectural expert, but it seems to me that we don't build for the same reasons we used to. We've come up with different means to accomplish the same goals as well as evolving to a different set of reference points. Additionally, now more than ever, money is the bottom-line.

So I can't see the equivalent to 'what we've lost' being built. It's simply not going to happen.

This is a multi-faceted topic, potentially bringing in a wealth of sub-topics, so I won't delve any deeper (though it sure would be nice to see an RTH-hosted town hall meeting or salon where it could be properly explored), save to say that if you believe this building is worth saving, then do what you can to make it happen...but don't be surprised if it doesn't.

Good luck.

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By H+H (registered) - website | Posted July 30, 2011 at 17:11:41

Mac won't be paying taxes.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted July 30, 2011 at 23:41:04

This building should definitely go to RTH and not to McMaster. You guys could set this up as a repository of all things progressive and urban. Transit, poverty, climate, conservation, heritage, and any other issues you guys love to talk about.

Get Richard Florida at your grand opening and you'd be off and running.

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By WRCU2 (registered) - website | Posted July 31, 2011 at 09:56:42 in reply to Comment 67107

Good morning A Smith and thanks for the word list. You have suggested these issues are what guys at RTH love to talk about. What follows is each word and how many times the word appears at RTH:

Transit 7087
Climate 1204
Poverty 1156
Heritage 1013
Conservation 225
Love to talk about 2
Progressive and Urban 2

I have included two phrases A Smith used as well in order to provide some clarity. These two word strings by A Smith were used once before by:

A Smith

If progressives love to talk about reducing waste in terms of energy use and garbage, why not taxpayers money as well? Or is it smart to waste money on things that nobody wants or needs?

Captainkirk

Something along the lines of Ottawa's progressive and urban friendly vision.

My apologies for straying off-topic but I'm troll hunting and I'm staying in the thick of IT.

As far as the BOE building goes, my feeling is this building ought to be recycled, like we citizens are expected to recycle. I cannot tear down my 87 year old house and build an equivalent structure for the same amount of dollars I owe on the mortgage so why would I do something so wasteful and stupid?

Remember the three R's: Recycle, Reduce and Reuse

Comment edited by WRCU2 on 2011-07-31 11:00:13

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted July 31, 2011 at 15:48:06 in reply to Comment 67109

>> I cannot tear down my 87 year old house and build an equivalent structure for the same amount of dollars I owe on the mortgage so why would I do something so wasteful and stupid?

Maybe because you realize that money does not create wealth, passion does. Therefore, by "wasting" money, you are actually "creating" the mindset to get more.

Risk = Reward.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted August 01, 2011 at 14:41:38 in reply to Comment 67122

"Passion creates wealth?" Yeah, and "inspiration" creates sunlight.

Risks don't equal rewards. If they did, they wouldn't be risks. They may earn rewards, but as WRCU2 points out, they may also cost you dearly.

There's a real risk involved in attributing the value which products gain in production (whether it's rebuilding a house, or sewing a shoe) to entirely subjective and intangible traits of those in charge. It devalues the work and materials involved (and likely the product itself), and grossly overvalues the contribution of a few overseers. If this kind of delusion persists, it can embolden the company to abandon/outsource any real production and focus on selling their "greatness" alone, like so many clothing companies which now only sell licenses to affix their labels. Just because somebody obtained money doesn't mean they produced anything of value in exchange for it.

Comment edited by Undustrial on 2011-08-01 14:41:55

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By WRCU2 (registered) - website | Posted July 31, 2011 at 16:52:13 in reply to Comment 67122

Risk = Reward

Not everyone can afford to take risks A Smith. I haven't got a purse full of taxpayer cash to parlay on dangerous bets.

I was reading a short story in theSpec the other day about a young man who took a risk. His reward was a hospital visit although he could very well have found himself pushing up daisy's for being on the wrong side of the tracks.

What side of the tracks are you on A Smith? Wanna be my bookie?

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By Richard Florida (anonymous) | Posted July 31, 2011 at 17:46:52

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Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2011-08-02 07:09:44

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By Kevin (registered) | Posted August 01, 2011 at 11:24:50

What I find interesting is the board has outgrown this building yet enrolment is down. Education is overflowing with adults who conference, meet, chat, discuss, read, talk… about education, but NEVER see a child. It’s organized crime at its worst because these people are siphoning billions away from children. The ones who suffer the most are the special needs students. For every classroom teacher, I’ll bet there is a bureaucrat who does NOTHING except take. Thirty kids stuffed into a portable with a young, frazzled first year teacher (probably 90% of whom are female) burdened by a million “expectations” these clowns come up with is the new “education” in Ontario. It’s diabolical.

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted August 01, 2011 at 11:36:43 in reply to Comment 67136

For every classroom teacher, I’ll bet there is a bureaucrat who does NOTHING except take. Thirty kids stuffed into a portable with a young, frazzled first year teacher (probably 90% of whom are female) burdened by a million “expectations” these clowns come up with is the new “education” in Ontario. It’s diabolical.

While I appreciate your passionate concern, I wonder if you actually got 'answers' from those-in-power, if you'd find yourself in the same position Mayor Ford of Toronto is finding himself in, in there just not being the 'fat' he's declaimed there is.

We need to ask the questions that beg to be asked from your comment, but I don't think we need to lead with accusations...many of which I don't believe would stand up to scrutiny.

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By Downtown Downer (anonymous) | Posted August 01, 2011 at 14:13:02

You think it has a bloated beauracracy? Look just past the 6 lanes of highway south and you will see city hall now bloated with over 8000+ civil staff. Some real hard questions need to be asked about where the money goes.

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted August 02, 2011 at 08:18:58 in reply to Comment 67141

Some real hard questions need to be asked about where the money goes.

Then start asking them.

Let's get them presented at the next town hall meeting.

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By Jane Jacobs (anonymous) | Posted August 01, 2011 at 23:49:05

insult spam deleted

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2011-08-02 07:09:53

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted September 08, 2011 at 10:33:13

http://www.thespec.com/news/local/article/591006--board-approves-conditional-sale-of-headquarters

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By highwater (registered) | Posted September 08, 2011 at 10:45:31 in reply to Comment 69213

Oh God I feel sick.

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