In the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four the protagonist Winston Smith’s job is to retroactively alter historical records so that they will conform to whatever propaganda is emanating from the dictatorship in which he serves. There’s an element of revisionist history in the provincial regulation that requires School Boards to obtain full market value when selling surplus schools to the municipality in which they operate. In Hamilton we have recently heard the beginning of a debate over the value of schools which have become surplus. In the case of the now demolished Sanford Avenue School it is something of a moot point in that the property is being retained by the Board. In the case of Delta Collegiate, however, the school won’t close until 2015. But In the case of both schools, an argument can be made that the buildings should revert to the municipality without any transfer of funds because the citizens of Hamilton have already paid for them once. It is too late to save Sanford Avenue school but it is worth asking if a better use for the property could have been found if the city had not had to contend with paying market value for the building as is the case with current provincial policy. If the city could have acquired the property for a dollar it might have been easier to then find a private sector developer would have been interested in adaptive re-use of the property. In the case of historic Delta that is still a possibility but will be a much easier proposition if the property is not burdened with a multi-million dollar price tag that is essentially the transfer of funds from one taxpayer-supported body to another. Delta Collegiate was opened in 1925, when the province was only contributing about 12 per cent of the cost of education. Similarly, when Sanford Avenue School was opened the provincial share of education funding was only 14 per cent. That means the bulk of the money for these historic buildings came out of the pockets of depression-era Hamilton taxpayers. To now saddle a later generation of Hamilton Taxpayers with a second payment seems crazy and who knows, might not survive a court challenge. If the province wants to raise money on schools that it has funded in the years since Mike Harris took over responsibility for school funding, good luck. But Hamiltonians or, for that matter, taxpayers in any community with historical school buildings should not have to buy back what their parents and grandparents already paid for.

John Best has had a lengthy media management career, in television and radio and now print. As Vice President, News at CHCH in Hamilton, John oversaw a significant expansion of the news operation. He founded Independent Satellite News, Canada’s only television news service providing national content to Canadian independent TV stations. John is a frequent political commentator on radio and television, a documentary producer and author of a book and numerous articles on historical and political subjects. John is a past recipient of the New York Festival’s award for writing in the International TV category.

One Comment to: Here’s another form of downloading, making taxpayers pay for what they already own

  1. Andy

    August 3rd, 2013

    C’mon, John, you’re a lot smarter than that. Those buildings belong to public school supporters, not all Hamilton taxpayers, half of whom are Catholic school supporters. The money from the sale of those schools and lands is invested in new, up to date education facilities. You seem to be suggesting that the properties should be given to the municipality, which in turn would sell them at bargain basement prices to private sector developers who promise to put the buildings to a use compatible with the politically motivated vision of City Council. I think not.


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