Nothing lasts forever. I get that. Most things in the world, no matter how historic or important they are will eventually come down. Some are lost to fires; some are lost to natural disasters. Some are knocked to the ground because they are dangerous and in a state of disrepair. Everything will eventually disappear.
Soon the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board will call in the wreckers and smash another piece of lower city history with the demolition of Sanford Avenue School. The building, which was built in 1932 some 80 years ago, will soon be gone. The board submitted a demolition application with the city.
This will make the second of my three childhood schools to be torn down in recent years. Two other schools that I was supposed to attend before fate changed my path are also gone. Gone, but not forgotten.
Wentworth Street School
75 Wentworth St North
I was supposed to go to this school, which was located on Wentworth Street between Wilson and Cannon. I was even registered for junior kindergarten there. But just days before I even attended my first day of school the building mysteriously caught fire and burned down. The structure was then abandoned and demolished. Low income residences occupy the location now with the name “Wentworth St School Manor” in honour of the former school.
Hampton Heights Middle School
771 Tenth Ave
Another ‘surplus’ school that is gone was my middle school. It was located on Hamilton mountain it was in the block bounded by Fennell in the north, Upper Ottawa in the east, Mohawk in the south and Upper Gage in the west. In fact not only was this school torn down but another elementary school on the same block, Fernwood Park, was torn down at the same time. This happened unbeknownst to me until I happened upon the property years later to find single homes on the lot.
My high school, Sherwood Secondary, was just saved in the eleventh hour in a decision that would see another area high school closed.
Tweedsmuir Middle School
50 Victoria Ave N
The last school that I (almost) have ties to is the middle school that I nearly attended, Tweedsmuir Middle School. I attended the grade six orientation at the school but never attended as my family moved just a week before the school year began. The site is now the location of an expanded J.C. Beemer Park.
Tweedsmuir School was located in the Lansdale neighbourhood.
The School was listed on the City of Hamilton Inventory of Buildings of Architectural and/or Historical Interest. City staff suggested in a 2004 report it may be worthy of designation under Ontario Heritage Act. Tweedsmuir was closed and the site was sold. The building was torn down and J.C. Beemer Park was expanded. There is now a new community use development on the site.
Which brings us back to Sanford Avenue School.
Sanford Avenue School
149 Sanford Ave N
The school was built in 1932 as the Central High School of Commerce and was designed by architect brothers Bernard H. Prack and Frederick Prack. The architects are also responsible for other notable Hamilton buildings such as the Pigott Building, Delta Secondary School and the Cooper Wing of the Hamilton General Hospital among dozens of other structures.
After Wentworth Street School burned down in 1984 I was sent to Sanford instead. The school is a massive structure and had more amenities than the students could need. There were two large gymnasiums with full locker rooms and showers, a large cafeteria, only half of which was used by the students.
In a building so large there were areas that were simply off limits to the students. It created a sense of mystery to the students who weren’t supposed to, but of course always did, venture into the ‘forbidden’ zones. There was only one class occupying the entire third floor.
Years later I moved back near my childhood elementary school so that my children could attend my old school. I had always wanted to go back and revisit my old childhood school. Since graduating and moving away I never had the opportunity to visit the school again. I was saddened to find out that the school had since been recently closed and was on the demolition list.
I have sent requests over the last few years to tour my old school, all of which went unanswered until just recently.
“Sanford Ave School held a school viewing in June 2010 with the final closing of the school,” said Pat Hudyma from the board. “The building has been decommissioned and is not open for public viewing.”
A committee of the whole meeting in November 2011 resulted in the recommendation to demolish Sanford School citing that Sanford is no longer needed as a holding facility and the City of Hamilton has finished using the school gym for its recreational program. It also stated that maintenance of the facility has become very costly and the school’s demolition will provide green space and play space for the community.
If more green space is needed on the block then why was all of the existing green space covered up with the construction of neighbouring Cathy Wever, a school that is too small and already busting at the seams.
A report issued last month by the board looking at possible school closure candidates identified Cathy Wever as only being utilized 71-80% to capacity. Talk to staff who work there and they state that the school is bursting at the seams.
In fact my daughter was denied ‘out-of-catchment’ for Cathy Wever for just that reason. We were told there wasn’t any room for my daughter at the school. We live a mere two blocks from the school and are right on the catchment boundary. We can even see the building from our porch. She takes a school bus to another school more than three times further from our home.
There have been a few mentions in the last little while, since the news broke that the board applied for the demolition permit, that there may be interest in saving the school. Here’s to hoping that another structurally sound, architecturally beautiful and historically significant structure isn’t leveled.
But despite the history and beauty of the structure it’s no wonder the school is about to meet its end. Even a 2010 report from the board called the aging school “old and decrepit.”