The last days of Sanford Avenue School – a raw video walk around

It was a cold and windy evening…

This heritage worthy building we fought for is now in mid-demolition and I am not sure how much longer there will be any structure left. It really was suddenly cold and windy, but I felt the urgency to document this last stand of one of the last of the great Barton Village classic buildings.

This is pretty raw footage of me walking around the building. I do make a brief statement at the beginning, but this is for reference for … future use. Hopefully, we’ve made a difference overall in Hamilton for other communities going forward.

Sanford Avenue School was a very special heritage building, built in 1932 during the great depression. One of the gems of a notoriously poor neighbourhood, this is the sort of structure that is attractive for a very wide range of opportunities including a college, a community centre or health facility. Despite well documented flaws in the public consultation process and the demolition / heritage process, the HWDSB, the City of Hamilton and then the Government of Ontario failed the future interests of  the Barton Village community and allowed the first 100% steel framed building in Canada to be sold as scrap. No public interest from developers was allowed to be entertained.

For the record, below is a list of  trustees who voted to allow Sanford Avenue School to be demolished, and not to allow any alternatives to be presented by private or non-governmental organizational interest. Also included on this list of “Heritage & Community Shame” are the City and Provincial elected officials without whose express support and approval this tragedy could not have happened.

At the time of this posting, there is no secured funding or concrete plans for any development of the site into a park, soccer field or Recreation Complex expansion.  The most frustrating part for most of us? There would of been enough room for all of this if they had agreed to re-arrange parking instead of demolishing this beautiful structure that would have served nicely economic tool for revitalization. There is a need for new leadership in Hamilton, and the following elected officials should not trusted with public office again:

Ward 3 Councilor 

Bernie Morelli

Hamilton Wentworth District School Board Chair

Tim Simmons

HWDSB Trustees:

Bob Barlow

Todd White

Lillian Orban

Wes Hicks

Jessica Brennan

Karen Turkstra

Ray Mulholland

(Former) Liberal Education Minister

Laurel Broten

sanford last video 023

friend, fellow heritage activist and Photographer Joanna St. Jacques

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See also http://hamiltonsusualsuspects.blogspot.ca/?m=1 for more photos and discussion

Sanford Avenue School shines bright – photography by artist Joanna St.Jacques

Sanford Avenue School

A friend here in Hamilton, Ontario came over to my hood and took this photo. When she emailed it to me later, I was blown away – not only because I’ve developed a personal attachment to it while fighting to save it from being demolished, but because it has been stubbornly difficult to being able to be photographed as a whole, with its character intact. This is the best contemporary  impression of this 1932 depression-era heritage I have seen.

I love this photo for many reasons. Formally, I love the grid of windows, each with it’s own variance tells a story of when it was last used (can you spot the Mona Lisa lurking in one of the windows? a neat cardboard cutout I had not noticed before…). I look at the accents on top the building and how this is like something straight out of the Art Deco influenced movie “Metropolis“. I look at this and it makes me want to learn more about architecture.

Sadly and beautifully, the neglect and stress of the last ten years is all over this building. The atmosphere of this work is troubling, brooding and somehow majestic. I had the pleasure of hanging out with St. Jacques while she took this photo with some special techniques, but I won’t reveal them.

The grit and dirt of it’s exterior is a texture that contrasts with the solid frame and spectacular craftsmanship that would hold this structure together for hundreds of years – if we let it. The school board has rebuffed those who wanted to re-vitalize it over the last ten years, while not maintaining it or making repairs.

Currently, the building is still slated for demolition as early as three weeks from now. They have no funds to replace it with anything but a rubble strewn empty lot, and they are essentially tearing down this building because the “big machine” of bureaucracy considers a mostly empty parking lot beside it as untouchable. Insurance, of course, is also an issue and the school board could clear this liability off their books, regardless of the developers and community members asking to be allowed to present alternatives for using it. Exactly how could these considerations be any less inspiring, noble or even necessary?

There is a Hamilton Wentworth District School Board Board of Trustees meeting on Monday, December 17th. This is the last meeting before they can go ahead and demolish it and leave this poor neighbourhood another empty lot to live with.

Please consider contacting your local Trustee and expressing your concerns about this situation – our community voices are making a difference:

Ward 3
Lower City

Tim Simmons
Chair of the Board
Chair’s Office: 905.527.5092 x 2279
Phone: 905.308.6832
tim.simmons@hwdsb.on.ca

Ward 9 & 10
West Stoney Creek
(lower and mountain)

Robert Barlow
Vice-Chair
Phone: 905.308.2483
robert.barlow@hwdsb.on.ca

Ward 1 & 2
West Lower city

Judith Bishop
Phone: 905.512.5713
judith.bishop@hwdsb.on.ca

Ward 4
East Lower City

Ray Mulholland
Phone: 905.547.2237
ray.mulholland@hwdsb.on.ca

Ward 5
East City

Todd White
Phone: 289.237.1644
todd.white@hwdsb.on.ca

Ward 6
East Mountain

Laura Peddle
Phone: 289.238.9284
Cell: 905.308.3367
laura.peddle@hwdsb.on.ca

Ward 7
Central Mountain

Lillian Orban
Phone: 905.573.8181
lillian.orban@hwdsb.on.ca

Ward 8
West Mountain

Wes Hicks
Phone: 905.383.2222
wes.hicks@hwdsb.on.ca

Ward 11 & 12
East Stoney Creek
Ancaster
Glanbrook

Alex Johnstone
Phone: 905.515.7082
alex.johnstone@hwdsb.on.ca

Ward 13
Dundas

Jessica Brennan
Message Line 905.627.3820.
jessica.brennan@hwdsb.on.ca

Ward 14 & 15
Flamborough

Karen Turkstra
Phone: 905.515.8726
karen.turkstra@hwdsb.on.ca

A view of the parking lot the City and School Board bureaucracy want to preserve (note the wide and underused street suitable for street parking)

Sanford School, street and parking

Sanford School, street and parking

 

*UPDATED* Surrogate for Sanford interior photos + arguments for demolishing (the A word)


I’ve been on the phone and computer waaay too much this week so decided to take a long walk – which turned out to be a very short walk as I found myself back at the Sanford Avenue School site. I ended up spending hours in the area talking with some very interesting people who had very interesting things to say about this heritage building.

When I approached the Sanford building I noticed, lo and behold – the side door was open!!! This would be my big chance to take a peek inside, so we can see what’s what in there.

Side door of Sanford School

But alas, I noticed a HWDSB van in front of it with someone inside of it, who was obviously fitting the door with a new lock. I asked if I could take a peek but he said “no” – and then kept a steely eye on me as I took the above picture. I’m sure people suddenly rushing through an open door into an empty building in front of the landlord’s employee has happened before. No seriously, after being in Hamilton for two years I am not surprised by much anymore.

So, on a whim, I decided to pop into Mission Services, kiddy parking lot corner to Sanford Avenue School. There is an 85 year old building there (1927) they renovated back into shape as a community services centre for their clients. Barry, the Director of Community Relations, was kind enough to receive my unannounced visit and discuss Sanford Avenue School. I learned they were originally interested in Sanford because there is actually an underground tunnel from their building to the historic school, as the basement of Sanford is also connect to the Norman “Pinky” Lewis Recreation Centre. They thought it would be great to have a senior’s residence there as the residents would be able to go back and forth without having to go outside during the winter months, but when they inquired about the building’s availability they were told by the HWDSB it was unavailable.

Yep, that’s a central issue here. The school has been unavailable for other options – but that’s not to say Mission Services could take it over as they’ve spent a lot on renovations on the former Mohawk College chair storage facility. But he was happy to give me a tour of their building, both the renovated and yet-to-be-renovated parts of the building as an example of what can be done with these kind of buildings when loved by a community. These pictures are the closest thing we have right now to assess what the inside of Sanford Avenue School looks like – and what it could look it.

(if anyone can get me into Sanford Avenue School so I can take some interior photos, please contact me at muskoxen at g mail d ot com)

The A word: Asbestos. Valid reason to demolish?

I did not think about it, but after chatting with a couple of Rec centre employees it was pointed out to me that the school is “full of asbestos”. They also thought the building was so run down that they were not in favour of saving it. They were very focused on “more green space for the kids”. Also, it was pointed out to me that there used to be a big beautiful track and park until the Cathy Wever School expanded.

These are, on the surface, very good reasons for proceeding with plans to demolish Sanford Avenue School and create parkland, a soccer pitch and expanding the recreation centre without kids having to endure a leaky, broken asbestos filled gymnasium that are essentially underground bunkers. Or is it really that simple? I list my counter-arguments below:

Hey ho, asbestos has got to go: can’t argue for asbestos but two things come to mind: 1) *every building* in our city before a certain date has or had removed asbestos. That is part of our reality here, and is unfair to Sanford to single it out for execution for having the same condition of buildings that we decide to keep – regardless of asbestos needing to be removed. If a developer was going to take it over then cleaning that up would have to be part of the deal. 2) They were using the building as recently as two years ago – with asbestos in it as common knowledge!?!? If this is serious enough of a case for tearing it down, then what the heck where they thinking using it at all? This asbestos bugaboo is a distraction from the real issue here, IMHO.

It’s for the kids – don’t you want to help the kids? I actually hate children. Of course, I am kidding. But political rhetoric and lobbying efforts, which dominates what passes as public discourse these days, is very divisive and “think of the children” has been a trojan horse for a variety of questionable motions and now is a rallying cry for tearing down Sanford Avenue School. The problem is none of the funding for these great new developments for the Wever Hub is a done deal. We are in very real danger of spending money on tearing down a development-friendly heritage building and replacing it with nothing. This is another Hamilton story my partner and I have heard about many times. I suppose it could be worse – Jackson Square II could be erected there.

The other counter to this black & white argument of “kids or heritage” is that incorporating the building into the new park and pitch plans has never, ever been explored. In fact, I think the money would be better used on making a better Pinky Lewis Recreation centre. There is lots of room to expand / move it so you could fit a soccer game or two in there. You know, for the childrens. Don’t you care about the childrens?

A school under siege by a premeditated illusion of not having a choice. The Sanford Avenue School is run down and in disrepair. The boilers are broken inside and the basement leaks. You can easily see broken and open windows and rusting grates on the exterior – and no one is raising a finger to prevent further damage to the structure. If there was a way for a property manager to build consensus that a building was undesirable, this sort of “demolition by neglect” would be the best way to go about it. I say property manager in this case because it is actually a public building – you and I already own it through our taxes – but the HWDSB are the caretakers we’ve entrusted with this responsibility.

It’s perfectly natural to want to get a run down building out of your community landscape. What is not natural is allowing a building to fall into this state of disgrace through what appears to be a deliberate campaign of non-action combined with making the building unavailable for any other party to get involved. This has created an environment where, by looking at the surface of the present and not the past or future, a local politician or school official as well as many local residents can claim “Look, that building is falling apart and no one is interested in taking it over. For the sake of the children, we need to demolish it.”

Unfortunately for them, it’s one hell of a building and is not falling apart because it is very well made and once was loved by the community and the school board. It is in great shape for development, and would be for a very long time I suspect. Do you think a new building would be so well made?

A community association of straw men. I kept hearing about how community groups were consulted and this is what they want. In particular, it was pointed out to me this was the Wever Community Hub – which is responsible for many of the great developments in my area over the last dozen years. The reality is they did not get involved in any direct decision to tear down this heritage building, and partly because they are NOT a community association – they are are service provider. They want more and better facilities and I support this, but they were not “the neighbourhood residents who want this building gone” that I keep being told they are.

Strange. Things are not quite what they seem here and I hope, dear reader, you are coming to the same conclusion at this point. But I’m not done yet – I was very curious as to who exactly is this “local community group” that was consulted (BTW, I must point out that even if there was such a group then the fact the building has not been for sale for over 10 years and therefore no options were presented or opinions solicited during that unreasonably long period renders this fundamentally problematic).

The short answer is there is no real community association group in my area. The only semblance of this is, as I’ve been told, is a informal group that meets infrequently called the “Gibson-Landsdowne Association”. I cannot find any information about them, nor has my public call for contact with these people resulted in any leads. Imagine being a resident here who was not working in such a sustained and public manner as I am trying to find this information.

So, in conclusion and in so far as my perspective and personal opinion on this situation goes: The reasons and consensus for demolishing Sanford School are shadows, paper ghosts, good intentioned efforts that have been co-opted by agendas and forces operating outside of meaningful community concerns. As a resident in Barton Village in ward 3 I have no community association to represent my concerns, as I don’t have a Councillor or trustee who live in the ward and I don’t have a BIA led by someone who lives in my ward either. This is why my area is vulnerable to slum lords and bad decisions – those who make the bed here don’t have to sleep in it.

[Podcast #5 / Interview] I talk with HWDSB Trustee Tim Simmons about Sanford Avenue School

This is a phone interview with Hamilton, Ontario’s school board chair and my local Trustee Tim Simmons, who was gracious enough to give his full attention to a blogger wearing a citizen journalist hat. I was impressed with his willingness to confront the issues and to attend the community meeting next week.

Podcast #5 is available here and on iTunes. This episode is 31 min 45s.

I voice concerns and ask Mr.Simmons questions about the decisions and process that has led to the likely imminent demolition of Sanford Avenue School – a beautiful 1932 historic building in my neighbourhood. Apologies for the poor quality of the phone recording – we do the best we can with what we have. There is nothing scandalous here, but lots of revealing insight into the process and even a sense of hope and common ground, I believe.

Buildings like these are an artist live / work loft dream come true, and many other people find this structure equally as appealing for many other uses – including developers who have not had a chance to propose a plan to save the building and incorporate local community goals.

You can find out more about the state of crisis of this structure on my original blog post here.

If you are reading this before Dec 4th, 2012 and you live in Hamilton, particularly Ward 3, then please consider attending the Wever Hub special community meeting that day at 6pm at Cathy Wever School to voice your opinion. It’s important, especially for future generations in the community.

Sanford Avenue School c 1932 in Hamilton Ontario

[video / opinion / photos] Historic #hamont school to be demolished – an artist & feminist rant against it.

Sanford Avenue School c 1932 in Hamilton Ontario

Sanford Avenue School c 1932 in Hamilton Ontario

We were feeling helpless and exasperated at news that the local school board had slipped through a demolition order request to level a heritage building – and this gets processed within 10 days! Apparently the obliteration can begin in January, 2013.

Ward 3’s Wever Hub community meeting called for Tuesday, 6m at Cathy Wever School! Chance to clarify, discuss Sanford Avenue School and show Tim Simmons and Bernie Morelli how the Ward 3 neighbourhood really feels. Please attend!

Please, especially Ward 3 residents, contact Tim Simmons, HWDSB Chair at 905-308-6832 to voice your concerns. Please do it now!

There is no or little chance of fighting it this at this point. But what we can do is document the moment by complaining on a cold, overcast and very windy day as we walk around the school. We can let everyone know, especially future generations, what happened here and who was involved in these decisions. We can present more viable options to demolishing heritage buildings – such as a senior home, artist live-work spaces or even condos. We also talked about related issues such as bicycle infrastructure and the onus of meaningful community consultation on our elected officials.

 

In Hamilton Ontario where we live many beautiful buildings get torn down and now one of the most historically significant landmarks of built heritage in the city core is to be quickly demolished and replaced with a soccer field with plenty of free parking. Sanford School was opened in 1932 and is the first 100% Canadian steel framed building.

Production Note: Apologies for wind noise in microphone. So cold my iphone kept failing and Jen’s is a lower quality device, so the editing got quick and choppy, with a lot of noise. We felt it was important to be on site to talk about this, and within the limited window for meaningful public discourse on this, we are working with the footage we obtained in these less than ideal conditions. It was also important to us to limit the entire production cycle to one day. Much of what we said was cut because of the wind noise but added back in as captions. Much was also cut because we said some inappropriate things or bickered about the cold.

It is meant to have a sense of humour thoughout, so we hope you found parts of it funny – though it’s mostly just sad.

The building is located at 149 Sanford Avenue North, Hamilton, ON

Here are the links to our sources for our rant and more about Sanford “School-Gate”, our Councilor Bernie Morelli, the HWDSB and the general history and current state of our neighbourhood called Barton Village.

http://www.cbc.ca/hamilton/talk/story/2012/11/22/hamilton-demolition.html

http://www.raisethehammer.org/blog/2599/school_board_eager_to_demolish_another_architecturally_significant_building

http://www.thespec.com/news/local/article/841806–sanford-school-demo-a-lesson-for-heritage-advocates-mchattie

http://www.thespec.com/opinion/article/278749–the-barton-street-boondoggle

From http://www.berniemorelli.ca/index.php?option=com_content&task=blogsection&id=7&Itemid=43

How to reach Bernie
Bernie Morelli
Councillor, Ward 3
Hamilton City Hall | Second Floor, 71 Main Street West
Hamilton, Ontario L8P 4Y5

E-mail: bmorelli@hamilton.ca

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