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Maplewood Muffed

Here's the Hamilton Spectator report of the meeting last night:

Bulldozer or school for Maplewood Hall?

By Daniel Nolan, Hamilton Spectator, December 13, 2013

ANCASTER The first chair of what became the Hamilton Conservation Authority is admonishing authority members for considering the placement of a Montessori school in an old hall in the centre of Dundas Valley.

Waiting at Woodend for Advisory Board to Begin
Thomas Beckett, a retired judge who served as chair of the Hamilton Region Conservation Authority from 1966-1971, was involved in buying the 8-hectare parcel of land in 1968 that contains Maplewood Hall.

He told members of the conservation advisory board Thursday night the then-owners — the Anglican Diocese of Niagara — could have sold the land to a commercial operator, but wanted to make sure the Artaban Road land became part of the public domain.

"If it was Sister Theresa or Mr. Mandela, I'd still oppose this," said Beckett. "It doesn't matter who it is ... This is not a conservative use. It's a school use. It's simply wrong. It's simply a very, very bad idea. Don't do this."

Beckett, a former director of the Conservation Council of Ontario, was one of 10 delegations who spoke about the proposal to lease Maplewood Hall to the Strata Montessori Adolescent School.

The authority considered a staff recommendation earlier this year to demolish the 95-year-old hall, but put that on the back burner to see if could get some revenue from the building. Tony Evans, who operates the Montessori school, approached the authority in August after he says he was directed to it by Dundas Councillor Russ Powers.

The hall operated as the Resource Management Centre from 1970-1994 and since 2003 has been rented out for events such as weddings, meetings and retreats. The HCA has looked at other proposals, such as a private school and a yoga retreat, but they withered away because of public opposition.

Only two people spoke in favour of the school idea, Evans and Adam Bienenstock, who builds parks and playgrounds.

Evans called it an "amazing property" and that he sees "potential in this building to build something extraordinary." He noted it was once part of Camp Artaban, which some speakers noted and referenced fondly as a part of their youth.

"It's not really a major shift," Evans said. "This is a magical place with a long history."

Bienenstock claimed the average age of a person who visits a conservation area is 52 and the school will help engage kids.

Others didn't share their view. Paul Smith of the Hamilton Naturalists' Club said the hall "should be demolished" and Ken Reis said, "Let's return to nature what is natural."

Advisory board members talked about seeking a cost-benefit analysis.

dnolan@thespec.com

905-526-3351 | @dandundas

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