Board eyes revisiting the Scott Park site it abandoned in 2001
Nobody says school trustees have an easy job trying to anticipate future population trends and hence where to locate schools. Back in 1924, when Hamilton had but one high school, and was faced with overcrowding, the Board of Education decided to build a new showcase high school at the present Delta Site to take advantage of a post World War I housing boom in the eastern part of the city.
When the school opened Premier and Education Minister Howard Ferguson bragged that it was the finest school in the province. Ferguson expressed the hope that overcrowding in Ontario’s then only 3 universities could be alleviated by allowing local high schools to offer two years of university; making it possible for youngsters to get higher education without leaving home (later the concept was dropped to one year and became known as Grade 13). Delta Collegiate was designed by Hamilton Architects Hutton and Souter, whose long list of Hamilton landmarks included Memorial School near Delta, what is now the John Sopinka Courthouse, the clubhouse at Hamilton Golf and Country Club and the west-wing of the Royal Connaught Hotel. Delta was, and is, a beautiful example of collegiate architecture.
Over the years Delta underwent changes as fads in education philosophy swept the province. In 1950 so-called composite schools were all the rage—schools where students were streamed into academic, commercial and technical courses and housed under one roof. To accommodate the change Delta was expanded and now had a student capacity of over 2000. It is that footprint which exists today on a seven and a half acre site. Sitting 1.8 kilometers west of Delta is the former Scott Park School. It has been closed for 12 years and is now owned by Jamil Kara of Vancouver, a property developer. The board closed the Scott Park School in 2001 citing declining enrollments in the lower city. At the time the move was justified as a way of “saving” Delta and Sir John A MacDonald schools by transferring Scott Park’s pupils to the other two schools.
Now the Hamilton Board is set to close both Sir John A and Delta and possibly to relocate them in a new $32 Million school, which is rumored to be headed back to the same Scott Park site that it abandoned. Kara says he has applied for a zoning change that would allow him to build a seniors complex on the Scott Park site. Published reports suggest he would consider abandoning that project and selling to the board but the price would be as high as $9 Million. The Board won’t say if it is considering expropriation but in a statement to the Bay Observer HWDSB chair Tim Simmons made it clear that Scott Park is the preferred site.” We believe that this is the ideal location and that rebuilding on one of the existing sites would be challenging because this would leave too large of a void between the remaining schools. Furthermore, the construction of a new school in this location would complement the City of Hamilton’s Neighbourhood Development Strategy. As part of our business case, the site will be sold.
This is a great opportunity for our preferred agents Delta and developers to start thinking about how the building can be adapted and reused within the community.” Councillor Sam Merulla who opposed the Delta closure says he would support selling the school to a condo developer who would preserve the schools architectural features. Referring to such a development as “making the best of a bad (HWDSB) decision,” Merulla told the Bay Observer “I will … be pursuing mitigating action toward our green space deficiencies in the east end through my proposed hybrid (Condos and green space) development. When asked if he would still prefer to see a school on the site Merulla replied, “It is not within my jurisdiction or authority.”
Delta High has a strong contingent of dedicated alumni. This was acknowledged as one of the reasons Scott Park was closed in 2001 instead of Delta which was 4 decades older. Notable Delta Grads include Mayor Bob Bratina, the late Bill Sturrup, Ward Two Councillor Jason Farr, and TV interviewer Brian Linehan. Barbara Amiel, journalist and wife of newspaper mogul Conrad Black attended Delta as did hockey analyst Harry Neale, former Canadian Football League player John Bonk and Ontario Superior Court Judge Walter Stayshyn.
The Bay Observer contacted local developers with experience in adaptive reuse of historic buildings to find out what it would cost to completely bring a school like Delta up to a modern standard,–essentially stripping it to the walls and putting a new school in the existing shell. Dave Blanchard of Wilson Blanchard Management suggested to bring an existing school like Delta up to a complete modern standard would cost about $150 sq ft which in the case of the boards current plan to build a 160,000 sq ft new school would cost $24 million instead of the $32 million they will now pay. A number of authorities suggest rebuilding schools is usually 25% cheaper than building new and sometimes yields a better quality more durable building.
In jurisdictions, like the UK and the State of Pennsylvania, there is a growing trend towards refurbishing schools rather than demolishing them. The Pennsylvania Dept of Education in a recent publication says in part: The belief that buildings “wear out” is common but wrong. Of course, building elements like roofs, doors, windows and mechanical systems wear out and need to be replaced, but the foundation, walls and floors of a well-built school may never need to be replaced. A well-constructed school building can last indefinitely with good maintenance and a major renovation every 20 to 30 years. The chronological age of a school is no indicator of its construction quality. Most schools built between 1900 and 1940, for example, are masonry bearing structures that rely on massive walls to provide structural stability. Many were over-designed in load-bearing capacity by today’s structural standards. Most of these older schools are easier and less costly to renovate than schools built in the postwar suburban era, when cheap materials and inferior construction techniques became common. Developer Kara says he will vigorously fight expropriation of the Scott Park site. At this point Delta is scheduled for closure in 2015.