$55 mil­lion to be spent on school up­grades

36 el­e­men­tary sites sur­vived clo­sure re­views

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - RICHARD LEITNER

Hamilton’s pub­lic school board plans to spend $55 mil­lion over five years to up­grade 36 el­e­men­tary schools that have sur­vived clo­sure re­views as of the end of June.

Trus­tees voted 8-1 re­cently to ap­prove a cap­i­tal plan set­ting aside $40 mil­lion of the cash for new gyms — or $2.5 mil­lion apiece — at 16 schools to be iden­ti­fied later.

Another $5 mil­lion will go to­ward im­ple­ment­ing a new el­e­men­tary pro­gram strat­egy, in­clud­ing the ren­o­va­tion of ar­eas for spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion and mu­sic classes.

The rest of the money will re­new gym floors, learn­ing com­mons, and sci­ence and vis­ual-arts rooms at 25 schools, and up­grade 20 play­ing fields.

The plan didn’t sit well with Flam­bor­ough trustee Penny Deathe, who ob­jected that schools in the Wa­ter­down area won’t ben­e­fit be­cause they’re sched­uled for a clo­sure study in 2020-21.

Seven­teen schools on the Moun­tain and four in Dun­das are sim­i­larly ex­cluded from the plan. Schools in up­per Stoney Creek are in­cluded be­cause they aren’t sched­uled for a re­view.

“I un­der­stand that we don’t want to put money into a school that could po­ten­tially be closed,” Deathe said. “But it’s sort of un­fair to those stu­dents who hap­pen to be in older schools that haven’t gone through an ac­com­mo­da­tion re­view.”

But west Moun­tain trustee Wes Hicks, who chairs the board’s fi­nance and fa­cil­i­ties com­mit­tee, said the plan tries to best al­lot lim­ited re­sources, and ex­cluded schools can ex­pect sim­i­lar up­grades if they sur­vive clo­sure re­views.

“We had to have a cut-off point,” he said.

Trea­surer Stacey Zucker said 63 of the board’s 89 el­e­men­tary schools have gone through clo­sure re­views, and staff iden­ti­fied the 36 schools by sub­tract­ing those ei­ther ex­pected to close or built af­ter 2000.

She said the plan is “very high level” at this point and will re­quire more study to de­ter­mine if some projects are fea­si­ble.

Zucker said the 16 gyms are the most ex­pen­sive com­po­nent be­cause they are more than 500 square feet short of pro­vin­cial stan­dards, and need to be ex­panded.

“Depend­ing on the lo­ca­tion of the gym, depend­ing on how much prop­erty there is, it may or may not be able to hap­pen.”

Board chair Todd White said now that the bud­get has been set, staff will de­velop a sched­ule and flesh out de­tails on how to de­liver the plan, mod­elled af­ter one al­ready in place for se­condary schools.

Fund­ing will come from two an­nual pro­vin­cial grants for school re­newal and main­te­nance as well as pro­ceeds from sell­ing sur­plus schools and prop­er­ties — the lat­ter es­ti­mated at $65 mil­lion over the next five years.

The plan will give pri­or­ity to schools in poor con­di­tion and time­sen­si­tive part­ner­ship op­por­tu­ni­ties that can save costs, ac­cord­ing to a staff re­port.

“We aim to give those schools that need the work more money,” White said. “At the end of the day, they should all of­fer sim­i­lar fa­cil­i­ties for stu­dents.”

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