Some Hamilton residents oppose the idea of demolishing the old Board of Education building downtown for a McMaster health-related satellite campus.

 

After months of debate, Hamilton’s City Council is pushing forward with plans for a joint Hamilton-McMaster venture on a new health campus, which will replace the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board headquarters at Main and Bay Street. The building would also house some of the City’s public health offices.

Though the Board has agreed to relocate to a spot on the Hamilton mountain, some residents weren’t pleased when they heard the board of education’s headquarters might be demolished for the cause.

Former Hamilton Spectator columnist Paul Wilson, architect Joseph Singer, and Hamilton resident Matt Jelly are among those who spoke out that the university should look at other available properties. In 2008, the Municipal Heritage Committee urged the City to consider the heritage value of the 44-year-old headquarters, considered by many to be a modern architectural gem. The Education Centre does not, however, have a formal heritage designation.

Following a vote last month, public health staff will move into the Robert Thomson building, above Jackson Square, with the health campus holding some public health offices as well when it is complete.

The 195,000 square-foot campus, eight years in the making, was approved by city councillors last July. The campus will integrate research, education, and family medicine while playing a role in downtown renewal.

“The new campus will be a centre for student learning, research, patient care and training,” said Gord Arbeau, director of public and community relations at McMaster.

“It will accommodate about 4,000 students, many of whom will be in the faculty of health sciences, with others participating in events and conferences.”

Now that demolition plans have    been finalized, the school board will preserve some key features of the Education Centre, including a statue donated by Dutch Canadians in 1967, a frieze above the building’s main entrance depicting various occupations, and a time capsule buried under the cornerstone of the building.

In addition to the city’s partnership with McMaster on the campus, the city had been trying to consolidate 460 public health employees in a new downtown location since 2005. The school board had planned to sublet part of the Robert Thomson Building to serve as temporary headquarters, but city staff wanted to use most of the space to accommodate public health workers.

Tense negotiations between city staff and councillors about a “swing space” for school board employees put the deal with McMaster on hold until the end of March, when it was resolved that the campus would be built at 100 Main Street W.

As school board employees wait for new headquarters to be built at Crestwood school, they will move to offices in the Robert Thomson Building,  Stelco Tower, and Standard Life Building.
Last month, councillors finally ended the debate with city staff, voting 8-5 to consolidate public health staff in the Robert Thomson Building. While not the cheapest option, the space would provide more comfortable quarters for most of the city’s public health workers.

Construction of the downtown health campus will begin later this year. The building must be ready for use by July 4, 2014 in order to secure $19 million in funding by the province.

The campus is expected to accommodate 54,000 patient visits per year and grant physician access to 15,000 Hamiltonians currently without family doctors. It is also projected to create 650 jobs during construction and bring 450 McMaster employees to the downtown core.

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