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Schools to Condos: Should Delta Secondary Be ‘Saved’?
by Larry Pattison
November 4, 2019
UPDATE: We have been informed that Delta will not be purchased by the City of Hamilton and therefore if no other preferred buyers show interest, when phase one of property disposition is complete (a mandatory 180-day period), Delta will be listed on the open market.
Hamilton, ON – There were two things that drove me to put my name forward for School Board Trustee back in January of 2014: special needs children and saving local schools that uniquely naturally served students within this demographic and two, to stop the closing and sale of local community schools and invaluable public land.
I failed in my attempt to at least save the last of two high schools for special needs children by spring of my first year in office, and would slowly come to terms with why school boards needed to close schools and sell properties as my term progressed like a freight train. I have never strayed from my belief in the value of special schools or in keeping local community schools open, but I succumbed to the reality of higher political vagueness, generations of unfunded repairs, and a lack of vision from all decision makers of what the future of our communities looks like, and the role our education facilities play in their long-term health.
I had started to see some of this before taking office, when communities in cities like Kingston and London failed in their creative pitches to save schools within their neighborhoods. Regardless of ambitious campaigns and even plans approved by city councils and parents alike, Boards were passing on these proposals having at the end of the day, not been given strong grounds from the Ministry from which to support what were then, growing community hub recommendations to save local, community education.
During my term in office, we were able to submit one true community hub motion to the Ministry, which sought to bring together various larger partners but to this day, it lacks funding or any real support from the Provincial government. In the end, absent was also much of the vision and creativity that I had read in Community Hubs packages from around North America prior to becoming a Trustee. After countless failed province-wide proposals, why would anyone put forth such forward-thinking, ambitious ideas anyway?
I attended those first discussions in Collingwood when it seemed community hubs were finally going to gain some serious traction. However, we would start to see as months unfolded, how hard it is for multiple ministries to coordinate on something as progressive as a school hub consisting of varying entities and specialties that would all compliment both community and educational needs, all within the same footprint.
There was more to my bid for School Board Trustee, including wanting to save the wonderful educational architecture that remained like Central or Memorial, Ballard, or Delta Secondary. It is the latter that brings me to writing you today.
You see, Delta Collegiate, which is a remarkable piece of almost 100 year old history that lines Main Street in our cities east end, is up for sale. It closed its doors to traditional education back in June and will likely be bought by the City thanks to some changes our Board made to make it easier for Cities to buy back these public institutions over a period of time. The plan we are quite certain, is for it to be turned into condos.
I have heard many people excited about this change in use, mostly from those that do not like having a school in their community which from my experience with the closing of Parkview, Delta, and the opening of Bernie Custis in my neighbourhood, there are many that despise over welcome, secondary schools in their communities.
Delta is a stunning facility with so many great assets like its multiple mechanic bays and shop spaces, a gym with stands overlooking the playing surface, a remarkable old 2-tier auditorium of which we are losing in newly built school buildings, and many more square feet of space that should continue its traditions of education and community use.
The school board shouldn’t retain it and of course the city won’t be able to hold onto a site worth many millions of dollars without a solid and sustainable financial plan. Our city buying it simply means they get a say in its future. Our school boards are already cash strapped from generations of underfunding and lack of political foresight and vision for the connections between buildings that used to line every neighbourhood, and all of those that dwell within close proximity to our schools.
I can sympathize to a degree, with neighbours welcoming the departure of schools from their communities. I do partially blame decision makers for leading us to a point where a sense of local community is so far gone, and where we are forced to travel by car and line unsuspecting neighborhoods with row upon row of vehicles dropping their kids off as schools grow larger in size. Walking and biking is increasingly becoming a thing of the past and attempts to get youth using these modes of transportation through bike and walk to school days are almost laughable and dangerous with a cycling infrastructure still very lacking in our city. I also blame my own complacency towards public discourse for the first 30 something years of my life as well.
Schools are falling apart and funding continues to be taken away for important resources, so merging and selling schools is an unfortunate way for our Boards to be able to fund much needed repairs or new builds where years of neglect has in some cases, rendered facilities beyond sustainable repair.
So I am not upset that HWDSB is selling Delta any longer. I would also not blame the City for buying it and selling it to a developer for condos. However, I cannot sit back and not say anything as this remarkable structure that so perfectly encapsulates the grander model INSE looks to develop, transforms quietly in the night when we have surplus built educational structures in this city ready to fill the gaps that public education is leaving behind.
I feel it’s at least worth throwing into the wind, that I believe education at 1284 Main St E. should continue, albeit in a different capacity, as should the community use of this historical landmark. I also feel that the facility should be left in its entirety; not with the additions lopped off because I can imagine 24-7 use of every single square inch of this space both within its storied corridors, and in every crevice of the pavement, stone, and grass that blankets the block that it occupies all on it’s own.
Delta is impressive and stands tall – shoulders pushed back in a proud stance, serving as the entranceway to the beautiful, mature tree-lined neighbourhood that exists beyond its domain and should one day, be a crowded LRT stop for education, commerce, and community for 100 more years to come. A place we go to teach, learn, shop, play, and even to just admire.
I have had an idea brewing for many years. I am however, neither businessman, educator, or deep-pocketed so to move forward, we would need all of the above by Delta’s – by education’s side. It’s an idea to change education for students, caregivers, teachers, and community; to truly define inclusion together, to strengthen our neighbourhoods, and revolutionize business and how all of these entities support one another.
Ambitious? Crazy? Unrealistic? Maybe, but I’ve learned since trying to save a stadium, that anything can happen – especially if you actually speak up and let people know that there may be alternatives worth at least reviewing.
I believe we can change resident’s views of educational facilities in their neighbourhoods. I believe we can affect a demographic being left behind. I believe we can do this by creating an incubator for multiple levels of our society through foundational social education, and a blending of public and private support, while also generating much needed tax revenue for cities who are also feeling higher level cutbacks. I have faith that we can inspire change and actually act on world statements that have long identified the need for public education’s overhaul.
Delta should remain public if process hasn’t already rendered this dream too late, but that would require you, your voice, and your knowledge. Your blood, sweat, and tears. It would need your advocacy, your convincing, and of course for those that can support this endeavor financially whether large or small in amount, it would require you to chip in to make something great because should Public really mean that you and I shouldn’t invest both time, money and passion to the cause?
I see a different future for these school lands that we are going to continue to watch For Sale signs pop up on. Maybe it’s an over-ambitious dream, but what good is waking up if we don’t believe that the seemingly impossible can’t result in the change so many want to see?
Government has been soft on its vision for community hubs, inclusion (thinking back to Trustees looking for a definitive definition of this term at the special education conference in Toronto to mark the 35th anniversary of Bill 82 in 2015) , and surplus public land, so let’s define a sustainable and inspirational model together. It starts with a coffee, and maybe – just maybe, it ends with a joyful celebration of change, hope and belonging.
Maybe we save a school? Maybe it’s too late? Maybe we start programming in one room with one program and expand from there? What we will do is start a conversation with a joint mandate to as a new collective, table and act on solutions aimed to change what frustrates, angers and saddens us about the current state of the education of our youth.
You can reach me at Larry.Pattison@socialeducation.ca