Is there a link between the closing of two Burlington high schools and the plans for a new administrative office?

opinionandcommentBy George Ward

October 7th, 2017



Many residents in Burlington are still questioning why we are closing two schools in the growing City of Burlington. The Halton District school Board has presented its perspective and justification for the closures, it still doesn’t make sense.

Hayden High school, Burlington's newest built as part of a complex that includes a Recreational Centre and a public library with a skate park across the street.

Hayden High school, Burlington’s newest built as part of a complex that includes a Recreational Centre and a public library with a skate park across the street. The school is well over its intended capacity and currently has 12 portables.

To begin, closing both Pearson and Bateman high school does not alleviate the overcrowding at Hayden (overcrowded with over 1,650 pupils and growing, necessitating the use of 12 portable classrooms and a desire to add 6 more in the future).

Secondly, it does not alleviate the growing pressures on our busing system and in fact contributes to the growing problem and safety concerns. Closing our schools makes absolutely no sense, is unwarranted, unjustified, and simply put is very short-sighted.

The board seems to have lost sight of the fact that schools are public assets and that taxpayers have invested their money in these schools and communities. If one was to look at these school closures in Burlington solely from a financial perspective you would realize that closing Pearson and Bateman will result in a substantially higher costs.

Closing two schools save approximately $2 million, however, some of these operating costs, such as the pool and day care, added busing, and other new ongoing costs to take care of the closed schools are not accounted for. In addition, the costs of capital equipment and facilities to transition specialty programs to Nelson was put at $12 million, but there is concern that this will  be much higher.  While a no school closure would result in the expense range of approximately $250,000 in operating costs. How is that being fiscally responsible?

Gerry Cullen

Some of the data that was presented during the PARC meetings was out of date and conflicted with other data put forward. Many had difficulty figuring out just what the full story was. Superintendent of Facilities Gerry Cullen was challenged at times to give a satisfactory explanation.

Throughout the Program Accommodation Review (PAR) process, it became clear early on of the lack of transparency when it came to information sharing from the board. From information and data changing periodically to the extensive and lengthy data provided, it became a challenge to gain insight into the facts that led to the decision to close our schools.

With more questions than answers, one might start to wonder:  What is the real motivation behind the HDSB wanting to close these schools?

Perhaps when we go back through Board Minutes to understand why the board needs to move forward on school closures in Burlington.

Below is an excerpt from HDSB meeting minutes of February 2017:

The Halton District School Board Administration is experiencing significant growth pressures due to growth in student population and the increasing complexity of its work. As a result, the Board’s existing office facilities have become woefully inadequate. This is not a question of quantity of space, but rather of quality of space.

Five level bldg

It is only a concept but it gives you some idea as to how far along the thinking is within the Boar of Education Administration.

Our analysis of how to meet the Board’s current and future needs presents an opportunity to provide the staff of the HDSB with a 21st century work environment: a new 95,000 sq. ft. facility to accommodate 350 staff within a single building, designed according to the guiding principles identified herein.

The sale of the existing J.W. Singleton site would make this project possible and in turn, create a facility that reflects the Board’s values, resulting in the delivery of the highest quality education for the Board’s students.

Budget Estimate: 95,375 sq. ft. x $310/sq. ft. = $29.6M

This estimate is based on the HWDSB (Hamilton-Wentworth) precedent and it is for project costs only. Land costs are not included, as they will depend on the site selection. Space for growth (10,000 sq. ft.. included) is based on HDSB projections, and can be adjusted should projections increase.

• 1 move required
• Unknowns could impact the costs include site issues such as geo-technical, soil, zoning,

• Only 1 move – no temporary accommodations required, and minimized disturbance to staff.
• Because this would be a purpose-built environment, it is the option that would best meet the Board’s needs outlined in this report without compromise.
• Other sites no longer in use could be used to raise funds.

It is clearly stated in the minutes that it is NOT a situation of need for additional space but rather a desire for better quality of space. According to the board, a better facility for their staff would in turn provide better education. How does having a nicer work space for HDSB board staff contribute to a better quality of education for our students?

Protest outside board office

Demonstrations didn’t make a bit of difference. The trustees, who are the people who made the decision, didn’t hear the parents.

Bateman hug

Bateman high school parents chose to give their school a public hug.

Shouldn’t priority be that our students have the “best quality learning environment”. Where students can walk or ride their bikes to school instead of sitting on the floor of an overcrowded bus. Where students are able to learn in an environment that is quiet, calm, and not overcrowded, where classes are not held in hallways, where students are not learning in portables, where there is sufficient heating, air conditioning, and/or proper ventilation systems?

The planning for a new Administration office for the Board Staff are moving along:  The following comes from a report prepared by a firm of architects.  The options before the Board were set out as follows:

Do Nothing,’ but maintain the existing facilities, for an estimated cost of $20M over the next 25 years, with no improvement to the actual offices in terms of functionality or design .

Complete a Renovation- Addition to one of the existing buildings, which  would  yield a compromised facility with increased disruption, for a similar cost to the final option .

Build a new facility, estimated at

$29 .6M (not including land) is the option that would best meet the Board’s needs as outlined in our guiding principals .

In order to obtain true value and create the desired synergies enabling Board staff to work at their best, we strongly recommend the Board proceed with constructing a new Administrative office facility .

Because of existing legislative requirements, selling the J .W . Singleton property appears to be the best way to generate sufficient dollars to fund this project . This would in turn allow for a new administrative facility to be centrally located in the Milton/Oakville area, where the Region’s growth is projected in the next 25-50 years .

The next phases of this Study will explore potential partnerships that could yield community benefits as well as capital and operating savings . Once specific sites are identified, concept plans, cost estimates and implementation strategies will be completed .

It appears that the need to accommodate 350 board staff takes precedence over the 76 elementary schools, and 17 secondary schools that serves over 50,000 students, excluding those in adult, alternative, and Community Education program within our school system.

Despite the fact the Minister of Education announced a moratorium on the Program Accommodation Review process and the fact that the HDSB is now subject to an Administrative Review, the HDSB continues to move forward on their plan to close two Burlington high schools, despite the fact the process that led to the decision has been publicly deemed to be flawed.

So, the question still remains.

Why is the HDSB really closing schools in Burlington?

Related article:

School Board announces it is looking for partners.

LBP George Ward 2George Ward is a semi- retired quality control auditor who is deeply involved in the community effort to keep the Lester B. Pearson high school open. Both his children and some of their children attended Lester B. Pearson.

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12 comments to Is there a link between the closing of two Burlington high schools and the plans for a new administrative office?

  • Jeremy Skinner


    I agree with the concerns expressed by all the comments above in that the optics of developing a new HDSB Administrative Office is extremely poor, especially for the residents who live in the City of Burlington, at this time. To make matters worse, the proposed building will not be located in Burlington. This gives rise as to what should be done with the existing JWS building and related property and the space to become surplus located at the New St. Garry Allan Education site?

    While not attempting to justify the HDSB proposal, I believe that we must all acknowledge that Burlington is but one of four municipalities served by the HDSB. The others being: Halton Hills; Oakville; and Milton.

    All of the lands zoned for residential neighbourhoods including: detached single family homes; duplexes; row town homes; and multiple (4 or fewer) family flats contained within a single house have already been built or have already been factored in future student (LTAP) forecasting for Burlington public schools. As such, future Burlington student enrollments are restricted to real estate turnover of existing residential properties, such as when a new family replaces an empty-nest family, or the redevelopment of existing non-residential properties such as: retail properties, including plazas and strip malls; commercial buildings; or industrial properties so that they be repurposed as being mixed-use. Mixed-Use implies the inclusion of residential accommodations, typically in the form of mid-rise or high-rise condominiums, built above a street-level podium of one to four storeys hosting retail and/or commercial businesses. Please refer to the City of Burlington “Grow Bold” and “Mobility Hubs” initiatives which will redefine the zoning of these existing properties to permit mixed-use development. Note: it was revealed in one of the PARC meetings that Burlington has a forecast average of 14 students comprised of a mixture of those attending public / separate / and private schools for every 1,000 net-new condominium units.

    All of this to say, that student enrollments in HDSB schools located in Halton Hills, Milton and Oakville continue to rise because of the amount of available land they have which is suitable for the development of future residential neighbourhoods when compared with that available for Burlington.

    Editor’s note: A close read of the board’s media release makes it clear that the sale of the Guelph Line site is where the money needed will come from. The challenge for the Board is to stick handle the issue and get the Ministry to go along with it. The consultants pointed to the way Hamilton Wentworth did something similar. There may be some issues with moving the Singleton centre out of Burlington – when the Halton Board was created there were some commitments made about Burlington contributing its holdings in return for the Admin offices staying in Burlington..Digging out out that document will tell how solid that commitment is.

    • Steve Atkinson

      Jeremy, the forecasts and numbers you quote, if true, highlight the construction of Hayden and subsequent repercussions as an enormous fiscal blunder!

  • Diane

    Thank you George. Leaves one with many questions. The part that jumped out at me was, “he Halton District School Board Administration is experiencing significant growth pressures due to growth in student population and the increasing complexity of its work.”
    Wasn’t one of the premises declining enrollment, yet this claims significant growth pressures due to growth in student population. Well, which is it?

    You are also correct, the PARC did not resolve Hayden’s overcrowding, Aldershot, etc.

    So, a new administration building or a revamped one to the tune of $30M. In addition to a $12M reno to Nelson (which everyone knows will go well beyond that projected cost). Are the funds in hand for these projects?

    Yet, we need to be cost effective and save funds by closing two schools.

    Has anyone even talked about the other upgrades that will still be needed to Central, MMR, Aldershot, etc. as part of on-going maintenance and the provinces wish for air-conditioning?

  • Tom Muir

    Thanks George for telling this story.

    I don’t know how the HDSB would have the nerve to suggest this spending of $30 million on themselves, adding nothing to student education but their own comfort, right on the heels of closing 2 schools, and finding themselves at the start of an Administrative Review for the dishonest and rigged way they did this.

    ARs are hard to get, so the further downplaying of the significance of the Ministry granting one, with facilitator, by trustees and Miller, simply smacks of more self-serving arrogance.

  • Jeremy Skinner

    Thank you, George, for your thought-provoking article.
    Was your source a draft document entitled “Halton District School Board: Accommodation Study for the Long-Term Administration Office Needs – Phase 2A dated 29 January 2016” which can be found appended to Feb 17, 2016, Board Agenda and Minutes on Pages 61 through 91 (assigned HDSB Report 16038)?
    I searched further to find the Phase 1 Report entitled “Space Needs Estimates and Directions for Design”. It can be found appended to June 24, 2015, Board Agenda and Minutes on Pages 41 through 65 (assigned HDSB Report 15100). It may be worthy of review for justifications.
    I believe we need to discuss this initiative with our respective trustees.

  • Steve Atkinson

    Great article George, thank you. What this situation really demands is a close examination of the entire HDSB budget which is massive. Is it time for an overhaul or an independent audit? How could people charged with hundreds and hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars make such a mess of things? Who is watching the public purse? Why do Trustees from other Towns control the future of students from the CITY of Burlington? This really deserves a closer look, the PAR has opened an entire can of worms that does not look favourably upon the Executives and elected officials involved. When private citizens have to identify and point out errors in data there is a problem. Follow the money.

  • Phillip

    Excellence in education begins and ends with a highly-qualified and committed classroom teacher. NOTHING of significance ever emanates from an out-of-touch head office bureaucracy; the fact that these educrats believe that the world revolves around them shows how seriously out-of-touch they are. I would be willing to wager if half of the current staff on Guelph Line were eliminated, no one in the classroom would notice a difference. It is well over-due that spending on bureaucrats in education be slashed; private business has come to realize the folly of “head-office” disease and it’s overdue for the Ministry of Education to take the lead in downsizing the number of educrats. However, it will probably have to wait until July, 2018.

  • steve

    How about the HDSB add some portables for the extra room? Or would that be beneath them, and not at the usual level expected from the government gravy boat.

  • W. Becken

    The elected officials in our municipality continue to make decisions that are irrational and self serving. In this case putting a fancy work place for staff ahead of adequate student accommodations. Another example of this logic from the past was when the elected officials of the day issued a permit for a quarry on land that was mostly a forest that would eventually require clear cutting a major part of the area and then issued building permits to developers to build expensive homes that would have this industrial land literally in the backyard of this new residential development.Why would they do that? There is no logic to this decision either. So the more things change the more they stay the same.

  • I'm alright now

    Excellent synopsis Mr. Ward. Gaz give this man a contract or paycheque or whatever it is you provide excellent Journalists.

    In answer to the question; . How does having a nicer work space for HDSB board staff contribute to a better quality of education for our students?

    Staff will Try harder.

  • Stephen White

    Great article George! You made some excellent points.

    Where the HDSB conducts their business is secondary compared to the needs of students. Rather than spend millions on a new facility why can’t they move into either Bateman or Pearson assuming both will be closed? The facilities could be retrofitted as needed. Spending $29.6 million for a new administration building is preposterous.

    I would have hoped some of our trustees would have railed against this expenditure, but then again, these are the same people who also voted to close two high schools that serve important needs in the community. Common sense is really in short supply in this city.

  • Hans

    A great article. It raises many questions…

    So the quality of their work place/space is keeping Board Staff from performing their best work? Surely that’s a joke? How would anyone know if/when Board Staff work quality improved? IMO some of them sure made a mess of this latest issue.

    What about the quality of the learning space for students who have to learn in a trailer park at Hayden? Is that not a priority?

    Who benefits the most from a new building? It looks like the architects are making a (rather weak, IMO) case (on behalf of the Board) that will give them a nice project to work on.