Special Report: Education

Another Sacrifice Zone: The Sanford School Area

As we grapple with a 20 percent poverty rate in Hamilton, and wonder why it is so concentrated in certain neighbourhoods, we have to question the way our School Boards and our Government operate.

By Dave Serafini
Published December 08, 2012

I went to the Sanford School meeting last Tuesday to get some information on the plan to demolish this building. Although I knew that this building was no longer being used, I was caught a little off guard by the demolition request filed by the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB). Not satisfied with the explanation from my own trustee, I attended the meeting to get some clarity on the issue.

I am sure that Trustee Tim Simmons' address to the audience about parks and green spaces was sincere, but I failed to see the point. Living near Churchill Park myself, I could relate to some of the stories he told. However, I kept waiting to hear why this destructive path was the only solution to the green space issue. That part of the speech never came.

There were some passionate pleas by parents to have the Board carry on with the plan to achieve green space. Their frustration was palpable and I don't think anyone was in disagreement with the urgency or gravity of that issue.

I certainly didn't feel qualified to tell members of this community what was the best course of action. Nevertheless, I couldn't escape the feeling that this community was being sacrificed for the benefit of others.

The trustee spoke of a 'machine, too big to stop', and I found that comment a little scary. I am sure that he was referring to the many layers of bureaucracy and the awkward nature of the funding parameters that preclude us from changing course late in the game.

'Sacrifice Zones'

However, I kept thinking that there was a set of pre-existing conditions that was allowing this to occur. Here we are, about to destroy an irreplaceable neighbourhood asset, contributing to the decline of an already disadvantaged area.

There are dramatic examples of this decline in regions of the U.S., such that the author Chris Hedges has called them the "sacrifice zones".

I am reminded of this passage about the city of Camden, New Jersey in Hedges' latest book: Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt:

Camden sits on the edge of the Delaware River facing the Philadelphia skyline. A multilane highway, a savage concrete laceration, slices through the heart of the city. It allows commuters to pass overhead, in and out of Philadelphia, without seeing the human misery below. We keep those trapped in our internal colonies, our national sacrifice zones, invisible.

I couldn't help but think that a poor outcome was predetermined for this impoverished neighbourhood, but I still have questions. Why would a school (Cathy Wever) be built in an urban community with a suburban complement of parking?

The maintenance department for the HWDSB claims that there is a minimum amount required for new builds and that is non-negotiable. A quick google map view show that Cathedral High School manages with much less 'on site' parking.

When I worked there years ago, I recall the Board leased an auxiliary parking lot nearby, although I was content to park on city streets. Why can't we have that discussion about moving some of the parking at Cathy Wever?

Why would a school board demolish a building so quickly if the tendering process is at least a year and half away, other than to shut down the dialogue?

Why would the Ministry of Education reward the destruction of a perfectly functional building, because it temporarily takes some red out of the Board's ledger?

Concentrated Poverty

Some words were used to describe the problem like "economically challenging" and "Code Red for Health". Political correctness obscures the reality that when industries like Westinghouse and Siemens left, they were gone for good.

Nobody wanted to state the obvious: Adaptive re-use would work in a different neighbourhood. It would be something to leverage for more economic growth, but not here.

Here, we should be happy with grass instead of marble and brass. After all, 'it is for the kids', we're told. Nothing would make me happier than for these kids to have a place to play, but what happens when they're done playing soccer?

Also from Days of Destruction:

The decline of America is a story of gross injustices, declining standards of living, stagnant or falling wages, long term unemployment and underemployment, and the curtailment of civil liberties, especially as we militarize our police. It is the story of the weakest force being crushed by the strongest force. It is the story of unchecked and unfettered corporate power.

As we grapple with a 20 percent poverty rate in Hamilton, and wonder why it is so concentrated in certain neighbourhoods, we have to question the way our School Boards and our Government operate.

Do they work in a way that actually helps people in poverty? Perhaps they merely pay lip service to that end; meanwhile, they answer first to the power elites.

Martin Luther King Jr., a staunch advocate for economic justice, perhaps said it best:

It is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he should lift himself up by his own bootstraps. It is even worse to tell a man to lift himself up by his own bootstraps when somebody is standing on the boot.

Dave Serafini was born and raised in Hamilton. He lived in some other places, but returned to Hamilton for family and friends. Traditionally, his extracurricular activities have been sport related, but recently, he has been looking for ways to get involved with broader civic issues.


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By SCRAP (anonymous) | Posted December 08, 2012 at 22:09:54

I personally think the poverty rate is much higher than the 20 percent given, as this is based on dated figures.

While the Code Red Series was valid, it also should be noted that this type of analysis was done before, in the early 1900's, to address the poverty situations back in the day. It is not a new thing.

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By Gary Santucci (anonymous) | Posted December 09, 2012 at 01:29:35

David Serafini has correctly articulated the true nature of this situation with the exception of the word sincerity when describing the actions of our elected representatives. The only thing that they should be planning is their retirement from public office.

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By too true (anonymous) | Posted December 09, 2012 at 02:48:01

Mr. Santucci, I believe this is them feathering their nest for retirement...

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By GoGo (anonymous) | Posted December 09, 2012 at 09:46:06

After moving here close to 7 years ago, I have never felt more defeated and disappointed as I was after this meeting. I experienced an "Aha" moment but not in a positive sense but in a negative one. They truly don't want to see growth and revitalization of this neighbourhood at all! They really, really want to keep this area DOWN and DEPRESSED. I am not sure why... I wish I did. If someone could please enlighten me.

We have people passionate about doing something positive with Sanford School, but "THEY" (Tim Simmons, Bernie Morelli) just don't want it, and don't want to see the positive effects this could have on such a depressed neighbourhood. All they seem to want to attract here is more poverty... the sort that Missions Services will attract with their "regional Detox Centre" etc.

This meeting about the destruction of Sanford School has only strengthened my decision to leave the neighbourhood. We have put a lot of time, effort and money into our home. I mean, our house was a dump when we bought it, we totally changed the landscaping from where there was none at all to what it is now. Plus a bunch of other changes as well. But after 7 years here, I just don't have the will or energy to continue to keep up the fight for change. It isn't working. This meeting proved it.


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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted December 09, 2012 at 11:27:50 in reply to Comment 83652

Seven years? Here's your crazy thought for the day, then: Councillor Morelli was nearly a Liberal MPP in the 2004 by-election that vaulted neighbouring councillor Andrea Horwath into the Legislature.


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By Steve (registered) | Posted December 10, 2012 at 08:25:22 in reply to Comment 83654

Perhpas, that would have been a blessing to the neighbourhood. A backbencher MPP is better than what we have in Ward 3 now...

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By hamiltonbrian (registered) | Posted December 09, 2012 at 11:05:51

I keep coming back to the idea that when it comes to property management, city council and school board trustees need to be linking tightly. I see city council saying, "here is our vision of the city based on what our constituents say. How will you, HWDSB, work to align with that vision?" GoGo's comment about Morelli and Simmons is unfortunate because their vision isn't community-first. Equally unfortunate is their feeling that they need to vacate that community.

As a school board employee I am frequently frustrated with the decisions made by my employer. The mantra that their hands are ties because of provincial handcuffs can only be employed for so long...the little boy who cried wolf syndrome. I think a challenge to my students will be to design a school that complements a walkable, green community...not a school that makes parking for teachers a priority. What a bunch of horseshit...makes me embarrassed by my colleagues a lot of the time.

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted December 09, 2012 at 13:17:52

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

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By For Crying Out Loud (anonymous) | Posted December 10, 2012 at 10:22:54 in reply to Comment 83655

"unless society once again undergoes a gigantic upheaval and turns the things we value on their head."

You mean the gigantic upheaval our society is *currently going through*? People are already moving back into cities. Hamilton needs to get with the program or we're going to miss out.

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By Gary Santucci (anonymous) | Posted December 09, 2012 at 13:31:14 in reply to Comment 83655

LOL you won't be laughing much longer as your suburban taxes will continue to rise due to a shrinking tax base in the lower city. The higher the publicly funded governmental and institutional use the higher the burden on everyone. While Sanford is but a drop in the bucket, it can be the beginning to halt the spiral of decline and divert the Titanic from its ultimate destination.

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted December 10, 2012 at 02:13:06 in reply to Comment 83656

I don't know how the tax base in the core can possibly shrink much more. There is precious little there paying tax now. The burbs have been paying the way for some time now and will continue to do so for probably forever. That's why the burbs need to have a bigger say in how the money is spent.

Sanford is not a drop in the bucket. In fact the opposite is true. The school never paid a cent of taxes and tearing it down will save us money.

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By Steve (registered) | Posted December 10, 2012 at 08:28:04 in reply to Comment 83663

Allowing for private development will change the property into a taxpayer. Tearing it down will mean it will never be a tax generator.

The built city funds the sprawl.

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By Gary Santucci (anonymous) | Posted December 09, 2012 at 14:02:12

Sent today via email c.c. Media

Trustees of the HWDSB

To accomplish the mandate of the publicly funded school system, that is under increasing financial pressures, you as trustees have a fiduciary duty to the taxpayers of the City of Hamilton that I believe has not been fulfilled in the matter of the proposed demolition of Sanford Avenue School. It is time to end decisions which are made in isolation to the broader community and it's economic health It is this community that shoulders an ever increasing tax burden to fund the activities of government which seem to be more about the interests of government rather than the interests of the people you serve. There are many ways to serve the interests and well being of our children without sacrificing the interests of the broader community. That is to say, every option should be investigated fully to use publicly funded and developed assets to further grow the tax base that funds the activities of the school board. This process must be fair, open and transparent to all in the community especially in the matter of Sanford Avenue School and its location. This part of the City continues to pay the price of short sighted public policies and government planning that can only be described as a failure to its citizens. As a taxpayer and resident of the area in question I request that you immediately halt the process of demolition and reopen the discussion of options for the adaptive reuse of Sanford Avenue School. It is also interesting to note that Councillor Morelli's position on adaptive re-use seems to be at odds with his fellow Councillors Merulla and Collins who respectively have advocated for the adaptive re-use of Delta Collegiate and Bishop Ryan High School. During the last meeting held at Cathy Wever School Chair Tim Simmons stated that the process was being managed by a "machine too big to stop". It is my sincere hope that you as trustees do not share this point of view.

Gary Santucci

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By 1234 (anonymous) | Posted December 09, 2012 at 15:18:54

As we have seen in the past with most marginalized groups. The power elites are legitimized by the rules and know it, take advantage of, as seen recently by the actions of the school board. They have only capitulated through some sort of direct action by the marginalized group. That's us fighting for truths in our neighbourhoods here in ward 3. Stopping the race to the bottom.

I think a good start is to identify these elites, know them and be very concious of what they are doing here. We might be further radicalized by this thought, but I don't see any way to make this better.

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted December 10, 2012 at 02:14:10 in reply to Comment 83658

the only way to make it better is to bulldoze it and start over

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 10, 2012 at 10:28:31 in reply to Comment 83664

Why don't you start your own blog? You can call it smash the hammer. We'll see how many supporters you can attract...

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted December 13, 2012 at 08:29:34 in reply to Comment 83679

I really don't have the time. Maybe if I get laid off or retire. Besides I could never be as funny as the articles are here. I would never propose to spend a billion dollars on a LRT project in this city.

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By LOL@LOL (anonymous) | Posted December 13, 2012 at 09:05:33 in reply to Comment 83812

Maybe you need to learn to manage your time better. The people who write for RTH have seem to have full time jobs.

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By ViennaCafe (registered) | Posted December 09, 2012 at 17:29:55

Following this discussion I am not clear on the issue of the green space. Is the school board going to install and maintain a public park? If not, is the property for green space to be turned over to the municipality? Has the municipality agreed to and has it budgeted for the installation and maintenance of a new public park? Who owns Pinky? Is there a budget in place to expand it using the freed land? So far, I am hearing these things but no one has shown me neither the plan nor the money. Does either exist?

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 10, 2012 at 22:50:54 in reply to Comment 83659

nothing exists. Once this school is demolished, the property will sit vacant for many, many years. Possibly decades based on Hamilton's recent history. There is no plan and not a cent for anything at this site.

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By ViennaCafe (registered) | Posted December 10, 2012 at 23:09:24 in reply to Comment 83708

So how are people persuaded that a plan that doesn't exist and is unfunded will come to fruition?

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 11, 2012 at 12:09:47 in reply to Comment 83709

that's all they were told by their councillor and the school board. They were presented with two options: an empty, decaying building, or tear it down in prep for a park/rec centre.

The public meeting last week gave residents the correct info that in fact it is possible to save the school AND expand the rec centre and expand green space.

And residents are now aware of the absence of funding. Given partial, bad info, anyone would make a bad choice. Now they are armed with correct info and hopefully will demand better for their neighbourhood

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 11, 2012 at 14:53:34 in reply to Comment 83735

one additional thought here - this is how disengaged neighbourhoods remain disengaged IMO - the powers that be never empower them to really make improvements or changes to their neighbourhoods, and many folks in these parts of any city don't know where to start when it comes to digging for the truth.

If not for the public meeting last week, they would have never known that there isn't a dime set aside for this project, and that there are other options to seeing their recreation expansion AND adding new residents to a grand old building.

It's a vicious cycle and politicians are experts at perpetuating it.

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By SCRAP (anonymous) | Posted December 09, 2012 at 21:19:13

What do people think the future will be? Any thoughts? It is just me but I do not think a green space will be developed, this was the red herring they threw at people at that meeting to disrupt the movement of those in ward three trying to do something positive.

There are lots of reasons why poverty exists in this city, policies made by all levels of government, continue on the path of the Milton Friedman world of economics.

I understand Mr Serefini's point of view when discussing the person who was more worried about parking, opposed to the issue that the school has been closed. It is like whne I went to a class on laobur Studies and engaging with others about food security. There are those who have good paying jobs, who are more concerned about their access to organic fruits and vegetables, opposed to the lack of food security for those who struggle in poverty.

If we the working class cannot unite, as we all are the working class, they will win and our children, grandchildren and great children and beyond will pay the ultimate price. It is hard to build consensus to get people to rally for one or two points but it is undoable.

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By Steve (registered) | Posted December 10, 2012 at 08:31:36

Parking never seemed to be an issue at this property until the development of the Mission Services property.

Is Mission Services using the school/community centre parking lot? Because they shouldn't be, it's not on their property and the parking is dedicated to the school (with its astro-turf playground) and Pinky.

If Mission Services is using the parking lot, parking bylaw should be ticketing.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted December 10, 2012 at 09:30:16 in reply to Comment 83670

The board often enters into agreements with neighbouring institutions to use their parking space. That may be what's going on here. Of course this creates yet another incentive for prioritizing parking over other needs: it's a source of revenue.

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By Steve (registered) | Posted December 10, 2012 at 09:34:45 in reply to Comment 83673

I'm unsure if they can enter into that type of agreement in this particular parking lot as at least a portion of it is for Pinky Lewis.

The whole thing is a mess and it's all being done with zero transparency, "for the benefit of the neighbourhood".

I'm I alone in being fed up with outsiders telling me when they think benefits my neighbourhood?

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 10, 2012 at 22:49:01 in reply to Comment 83674

That happens everytime your city councillors shows up to a meeting.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 10, 2012 at 22:48:11

Just back from a weekend in Toronto. Really highlights how far behind Hamilton is when our city's number one goal is to mandate the development of new parking lots. It's great to see all the new high density housing happening in Toronto on former parking lots.

Somewhere behind the scenes at Ham City Hall I'm convinced there is an old guard that loves our 5 lane freeways and are the ones mandating these archaic parking requirements so that we never see any headway in becoming a walkable, vibrant city.

Worst street I could find in Toronto was the 4-lanes of Wellington and Adelaide. And they were dead zones along most of their length. Hamilton's King, Main and Cannon should immediately be converted to a design like King/Queen in Toronto. Ditto for Wentworth, Sanford, Bay, Queen etc..... Coming back here via Main St was a horrible experience after being in a huge city all weekend with no streets so massive, fast and unliveable.
There is absolutely zero reason for our city, with a fraction of the population and barely a whisker of the business, to have such crazy freeways, and such crazy parking requirements.
We're going to lose a stunning school because we won't allow street parking on both sides of Wentworth and Sanford, even though their traffic numbers clearly don't justify being 3-lane roads.

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By Gary Santucci (anonymous) | Posted December 12, 2012 at 07:37:40

Today's announcement is relevant to the Sanford School Demolition

"$85,000.000.00 has been cut from this years Capital budget for Park Development" as reported on CHML

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By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted December 13, 2012 at 10:40:12

"Mr Butani owes the members of the Wever Hub an apology..." ~ Posted earlier by Chris Cutler (Executive Committee member of the WeverHub and President Elect Rotary Club of Hamilton).

The blatant double-speak seen below at the administered Wever Hub Facebook page exposes the dubious role this organization has continued to play in the great public deception surrounding this issue:

November 25: "The Wever Hub is supportive of the demo of Sanford Ave School".

November 27: "The Wever Hub does not have an opinion on the demolition of this property."

So, what exactly is the Wever Hub's position?

November 27: "What does the demo of Sanford Ave School mean for our Hub? After many of years in means that the unsafe school will be replaced with green space. Over the past 6 plus years, we have met with many stakeholders and listened, discussed and worked to create a vision. The vision is that we would like to have additional green space to include soccer and basketball areas, and outdoor classroom and a peaceful seating and garden area. The Wever Community Hub unlike most Community Hubs is not the local neighbourhood association."

Well Mr. Chris Culter, I would like to see that the pending request by a Ward 3 resident for all minutes of meetings held by the Wever Hub over the past six years is met promptly.

Mahesh P. Butani


The Wever Hub will hold their meeting on Tuesday December 18th at 5pm at Cathy Wever School. There are a number of items on the agenda to discuss and we will be planning the 2013 year. All welcome. Please join us. Hope to see you on the 18th!

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By Gary Santucci (anonymous) | Posted December 13, 2012 at 15:33:51

Concerned Citizens should plan to attend. See you there.

Board of Education Meeting
Monday, December 17, 2012 8:00 pm
City Hall - City Council Chambers, 71 Main St W,

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By Chris Angel (registered) | Posted December 15, 2012 at 03:36:56

I agree the Sanford School site needs to be developed.

Having been in the school a number of times from top to bottom I can say with certainty that it is an absolute dump that should have been razed decades ago. Not to mention that it was constructed in an era where it is no doubt riddled with asbestos.

No one in their right mind would purchase and renovate that building. It is a liability not an asset to the value of the property. In this case the value of the property is entirely in the land itself. Leaving it standing will cost a great deal to maintain in just a keep from freezing / watertight state. Futile and wasteful spending as any prospective buyer would simply factor in the cost of demolition in a purchase offer.

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By Gary Santucci (anonymous) | Posted December 15, 2012 at 07:47:48

If in fact there is asbestos or any other contaminant, it would have to be removed first before demolition(a cost to be picked up by the taxpayers). The land itself also becomes a liability to the taxpayers once it becomes a park and becomes worthless(in dollar value) until it is sold for another subsidized low income townhouse development. As the school population at Cathy Wever is on declining trajectory, never able to reach the 1200 student mark (the optimum number according to Tim Simmons) the block is destined to become another social services mega site. We need to focus on the economics on the ground to provide opportunity for employment to address the systemic poverty that has been the result of failed planning on all fronts. While only one small project, the adaptive re-use of Sanford School can be the beginning of a change in direction for our neighbourhood. The process should be reopened to allow the private sector to make the case for its re-purposing to create a mixed use property that can also meet the needs of the students of Cathy Wever School and contribute potentially $150,000.00 annually in tax revenue.

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By Gary Santucci (anonymous) | Posted December 16, 2012 at 11:32:20

Please find here a copy of an email that I received concerning the upcoming meeting of the Wever Hub.

Wever Hub Meeting Update.

The Wever Hub will be cancelling the meeting for Tuesday December 18th. We will be announcing the 2013 dates in early January.

The Hamilton Wentworth District School Board is having a meeting on Monday December 17th at 7pm to discuss the demolition stay plans for Sanford Avenue School. We encourage everyone to attend this meeting on Monday December 17th at 7pm at City Hall second floor chambers. We would like to assure that the needs and wishes of our parents, and young people are considered….green space and the addition of community space and a gym added to Pinky Lewis Recreation Centre.

Thanks to all of you for your ongoing support and efforts over the past year. You have helped make the Wever hub a success and a better place for the children, families and seniors. Have a great holiday season!

Take Care,
Sarah Sirkett

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By Danya (registered) | Posted December 18, 2012 at 10:57:19

I went to the meeting last night and was disheartened by the Trustees' vote...

If I understood the discussion~ there is already? some type of agreement? between the City and HWDSB to LEASE the land back to the City for the expansion of Pinky Lewis Rec Centre...

Now all the City and HWDSB needs are the funds ~ (to demolish building and make the site safe, turn the site into a park, expand the Rec Centre...)

TWO Trusteea had it right, I APPLAUD their wisdom on asking the prudent questions and L I S T E N I N G to the answers ~ which in turn had them vote AGAINST demolition...

Instead of making this a win/win ~ for the Children and the Community ~ there are no dreams left...only dollars to find.

Have a nice day everyone!


Comment edited by Danya on 2012-12-18 11:15:09

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