Special Report: Education

HWDSB Decision Reveals Agenda

Something tells me that the School Board is not playing fair in its refusal to consider any option other than the Jerome Park Mountain headquarters.

By Trey Shaughnessy
Published April 30, 2008

Some time in this month of May, we will see the Hamilton Board of Education's revised plan for a new Jerome Park/Mountain Headquarters.

The Board has again revealed its agenda of moving to the Mountain by starting with eight options, all of which were shown to appear more expensive then the Jerome Concept.

The Board abandoned all of them except the Jerome/Mountain Concept – even after McMaster and the City proposed their vision with the help of TCA Architects for a beautiful downtown Education Square.

The decision to revisit only the Jerome concept demonstrates that this was their choice all along. Why not revisit the other seven concepts? Couldn't these have been finessed as well?

Were the other options merely throwaway options like random schlubs in a police line-up to appear like they did their due diligence? Where was the short list?

The board website still lists all eight concepts as options.

Rigged to Fail

Many questions remain regarding the Board's agenda. The Board hired KMPG as a consultant last month to review the Education Square concept put forth by the City and McMaster. What was made public about the report was that the concept 'lacked sufficient details'.

However, not only was the Education Square more complete than their own original eight lame concepts, but it was intended to be a development worked out with the Board.

The Board has remained silent on the Education Square concept and rather than working with the City to hash out the required detail, they chose to hire KMPG to review a proposal as a 'business plan' that was still in a concept phase.

The Board has still not shown any interest in the Education Square concept; maybe that's why the details have not yet been fleshed out.

Something tells me that the Board is not playing fair. After the City revealed its hand and offered a wonderful block of buildings that would benefit all of Hamilton, the Board in return hired a consultant and kept the results secret, then went back to the drawing-board for their Mountain location concept, presumably to try and one-up the Education Square plan.

Hamilton's Obsession: Parking

My guess is that this is coming down to the old 'Hamilton obsession' – parking. The current surface parking lot at the Board of Education is a blank void downtown, especially after 5:00.

I've been to performances at Hamilton Place and the Convention Centre in the evenings and have heard rumblings of visitors who wondered why they had to park a block away only to walk past a closed and empty parking lot beside these Summers Lane venues.

This is an area that could be considered some of the most prime real estate in Hamilton and it's a parking lot. For two-thirds the time it's even worse: an empty parking lot.

A Decision Point

The Board's own numbers say they only need an additional 35,000 sq ft. of office space to house all their non-instructional staff. Their own study revealed that their space requirements are 128,800 sq ft. The current building is just shy of 100,000 sq ft but was built to accommodate future growth, and still the Board is committed to a new building.

The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board is at a decision point with respect to its administrative buildings. There are currently seven buildings located across Hamilton used to accommodate the Board's non-instructional staff, including the Education Centre located at 100 Main Street West. This includes departments such as computer services, facilities management as well as training and staff development.

Which means they are at a decision to do something. If they can't make the case for a mountain location will they suddenly do nothing and no longer be at a "decision point"? Is it the Mountain or nothing?

Will they find the extra office space needed in Stelco Tower across the street? Or will they finally admit that the Education Square is one of the best ideas to come to Hamilton in a long time – and is indeed cheaper then the mountain option.

Contact your elected Education Trustee and let him or her know how you feel.

Trey lives in Williamsville NY via Hamilton. He is a Marketing Manager for Tourism and Destination Marketing in the Buffalo-Niagara Metro.

His essays have appeared in The Energy Bulletin, Post Carbon Institute, Peak Oil Survival, and Tree Hugger.

And can't wait for the day he stops hearing "on facebook".

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By haaa (anonymous) | Posted May 01, 2008 at 13:56:32

Here is the text of the letter I sent my trustee today:

The manner in which the HWDSB has handled the search for a new head office location has been disgraceful. Every week, I read another news story suggesting that the HWDSB and it's trustees are not conducting this business in an open and transparent manner. The trustees are political offices, and serve their constituents and community, not their own needs.

There are only two conclusions I can draw from the board's recent actions in regards to the education square proposal. Either the board is populated with incompetents or the trustees have already decided to move the board out to suburbia, and are now engaged in post-decision justification. I would like to remind you that the desires of the trustees and employees are secondary to the duty of the board to the community it serves. Rejecting a sound and progressive proposal by the city, which would see more people living and working downtown (where I live, and you serve), via a closed, opaque process jigged up by KPMG and not shared with the very ratepayers who funded it would be both wrong in an ethical context as well as a complete failure of leadership. I do not have to remind you that trustees serve at the pleasure of the electorate.

I await your correspondence in reply. I am eager to understand what your position is on this matter.

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By trey (registered) | Posted May 01, 2008 at 14:17:39

well said haaa. Please let us know what your Trustee's response is.

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By haaa (anonymous) | Posted May 02, 2008 at 14:43:01

Trustee's reply:

"blah blah

Most trustees are anxious to remain in the downtown.

blah"


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By r (anonymous) | Posted May 21, 2008 at 01:19:16

I e-mailed two trustees, one of whom I know, and have received no reply whatsoever (is that one word??), and i thought I would at least get a "thanks I'll get back to you."

Guess not, big surprise.
r

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By trey (registered) | Posted May 22, 2008 at 11:40:06

This one announcement that I'm happy to say I was wrong. Thank you Board of Ed for committing to downtown. I don't know what took so long? but I'm happy about the decision you made.

Interesting no comment from Chris Spence ?????????

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 29, 2008 at 17:36:59

even with all the deadbeat developers and slumlord property owners we have in this city, I'm stunned by this decision more than any others in recent years. Especially considering the people involved. What's next? Margaret MacCarthy giving her constituents the truth about taxes and becoming an LRT advocate???

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By highwater (registered) | Posted May 29, 2008 at 17:46:32

I wasn't surprised. All the scuttlebutt I heard pointed to the trustees preferring downtown, with Spence and staff pushing for the mountain. Fortunately the elected trustees (who obviously have the most stake in the health of our city), had the final say.

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